Heathrow says capacity cut to stay until airlines hire more ground staff

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London’s Heathrow airport has urged airlines to recruit and train more ground handlers, saying a cap on flights will remain in place until they do so.  

After weeks of travel disruption, with passengers posting pictures of long queues at airports and piles of left baggage, Heathrow said on July 12, 2022 it could handle no more than 100,000 departing passengers a day until September 11, 2022.  

“The cap will remain in place until airlines increase their ground handler resource,” the UK’s largest airport said in a six-month financial update on July 26, 2022. “Airline ground handler performance has been much more stable since the cap came into effect, and we have seen a marked improvement in punctuality and baggage performance.”  

The airport said that the number of people in ground handling fell sharply over the last two years due to airlines cutting costs during the pandemic. It estimates that airline ground handlers are no more than 70% of pre-pandemic numbers.  

Heathrow said it had been raising concerns over the lack of ground handling staff for nine months, continuing its recent stance that airlines are to blame for the disruption.  

Some airlines outsource ground handling to third party companies, with whom they have contracts, but others are employed in-house. In Germany, ground services staff employed by Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) are holding a strike on July 27, 2022 to push for better pay, forcing the airline to scrap virtually all its flights for that day.  

“We can’t ignore that COVID has left the aviation sector deeply scarred, and the next few years will need investment to rebuild capacity, with a focus on safety, consumer service, resilience and efficiency,” Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye commented in the statement. 

“Airlines need to recruit and train more ground handlers; airports need catch up on underinvestment during the COVID years – at Heathrow, that means replacing the T2 baggage system and new security lanes,” he added. 

Heathrow said, however, that replacing the Terminal 2 baggage system or new security lanes has been made more difficult by the Civil Aviation Authority’s proposal on Heathrow charges, which is lower than the airport called for.  

Heathrow posted a loss before tax of £321 million ($385 million) for the first six months of 2022, an improvement from a loss of £787 million ($943 million) one year ago thanks to higher passenger numbers. In the first half, 26.1 million passengers passed through Heathrow, compared to just 3.9 million one year previously. 

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