UK

Security tests for new airport workers being completed in record time, ministers claim, despite travel disruption continuing

Security tests for new airport workers are being completed in record time, ministers claim, despite travel disruption continuing to dog holiday plans.

The time taken to vet new employees has been raised as one of the reasons for shortages in airport staff, contributing to thousands of flight cancellations, delays and missing luggage.

Airports across the UK and in Europe have been affected in recent months, as the aviation sector struggles to cope with peak season demand after two years of coronavirus pandemic-related turbulence.

The Department for Transport said counter-terrorist checks for aviation workers are now being processed in under 10 days on average – half of the time seen in March.

Accreditation checks are also moving more quickly, taking five days on average, the department said.

In other developments:
• Flights were delayed at Heathrow Airport on Saturday after a technical fault with the airport’s fuelling system
• A technical breakdown left at least 1,500 bags stuck at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport
• Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary told the Financial Times that flying has become “too cheap” and fares will rise over the next five years

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “While this is a challenging time for the sector, it is not acceptable for the current disruption to continue as we head into the summer peak.

More on Heathrow Airport

“The public deserves to know now whether or not their flight will run over the summer, and so I reiterate my call for the industry to commit to deliver the flights they have scheduled, or to cancel them well in advance so people can make other arrangements.

“Building on our 22-point plan to help the industry minimise disruption, we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure this summer is a great success for the British public.”

Government announces 22-point plan to tackle aviation disruption

The government has unveiled a 22-point plan to support the aviation industry ahead of the busy summer holiday season.

Some measures include: helping to recruit and train staff, ensuring the delivery of a realistic schedule, and supporting passengers when cancellations are “unavoidable”.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it will “never” be possible to “avoid every single delay or cancellation”, but the government is “working closely” with the industry to ensure it is running “realistic schedules”.

“It’s now on airports and airlines to commit to running the flights they’ve promised or cancel them with plenty of time to spare, so we can avoid the kind of scenes we saw at Easter and half-term,” he said.

“With 100 days having passed since we set out that restrictions would be eased, there’s simply no excuse for widespread disruption.”

Some of the other measures laid out in the plan are:

• Actions taken to reduce the time it takes to get new staff on board;

• Changing the law to allow greater flexibility over background checks;

• Allowing employers to use an HM Revenue and Customs letter to verify five years of employment checks.

But Labour accused the government of having been “missing in action”.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: “The part-time transport secretary didn’t hold a single meeting to tackle the chaos between Easter and the Jubilee weekend and now he’s desperately trying to play catch-up.

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“These re-announced half-measures will do little to clear the huge delays in security checks and tackle the chronic low pay holding the industry back.”

However, the Department for Transport said Mr Shapps held a meeting with airports, airlines and ground handling companies on 1 June.

Read more:
What are my rights if strikes hit the summer holidays at Heathrow?
Airlines and airports unable to say when threat to summer holiday getaways will end

Meanwhile, passengers face more cancellations this week, along with 12 days of strike action this month by Ryanair workers in Spain, and industrial unrest in France.

Britain’s busiest airport Heathrow has to tell officials about any further flight cancellations by Friday, under an amnesty announced last month that will allow airlines to cancel flights while still retaining take-off and landing slots next year.

Unclaimed luggage standing in the baggage claim area of Heathrow's Terminal 3
Image:
Many passengers have had their luggage delayed

Airlines buy slots to operate their schedules but can lose them to rivals if they fail to maintain their obligations to the airport and passengers by failing to fly.

It is hoped that being able to freely adjust schedules will allow airlines to run only the flights they can fully staff, ending the reports of passengers arriving at the airport to find their flights cancelled at the last minute.

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