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Chaotic scenes at airports as airlines struggle with summer demands

By Wole Oyebade
27 July 2022   |   2:41 am
Global aviation is witnessing one of its worst chaotic scenes in history over staff shortages and infrastructural deficits at major international airports.

[FILES] Travellers walk through Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls//File Photo

Global aviation is witnessing one of its worst chaotic scenes in history over staff shortages and infrastructural deficits at major international airports.

The airport managers that have been struggling to cope with the summer demand are compelled to ration daily capacity through the pre-pandemic slot use rules, which in turn puts airlines’ scheduled operations in a complete mess.

The Guardian earlier reported the hurdles that await Nigerian summer travellers this season due to the prevailing foreign exchange liquidity crisis that has further spiked airfares by at least 200 per cent and raised average Economy Class tickets above the N1 million mark.

Another twist to the hurdle is the chaotic scenes at major airports in Europe, the United States and Canada. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has described the situation as “Armageddon”.

At London Heathrow Airport in the last couple of days, there have been cases of flight cancellations, long queues, lost baggage mountains and strike threats. The airport has told airlines to turn passengers away as it slashed daily capacity by half.

Compared to the over 213,000 it receives daily, Heathrow announced a 100,000 daily cap on passengers until 11 September, infuriating airlines and putting thousands of customers’ plans in jeopardy. The airport insisted it was “protecting holidays”, but the response was fierce.

Emirates initially refused point blank to comply or cancel flights. IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh, described Heathrow as “a bunch of idiots when it comes to running airports”.

The situation was not any different at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, in New York, the United States, and Toronto Pearson Airport, Canada where travellers’ baggage has been mounting for weeks.

To cope with the pressure, the European Commission announced it intends to return to the longstanding 80-20 slot use rule, which requires airlines to operate at least 80 per cent of every planned slot sequence. Global slot rules are an effective system for managing access to and the use of scarce capacity at airports.

The system has stood the test of time and while airlines are keen to restart services, the failure of several key airports to accommodate demand, coupled with increasing air traffic control delays, means a premature return to the 80-20 rule could lead to further passenger disruption.

The evidence so far this summer has not been encouraging. Airports had the 2022 summer season schedules and final slot holdings in January and didn’t evaluate how to manage this in time. Airports declaring that full capacity is available and then requiring airlines to make cuts this summer shows the system is not ready for reviving “normal” slot use this winter season (which begins at the end of October).

Walsh said: “The chaos we have seen at certain airports this summer has occurred with a slot use threshold of 64 per cent. We are worried that airports will not be ready in time to service an 80 per cent threshold by the end of October. It is essential the Member States and Parliament adjust the Commission’s proposal to a realistic level and permit flexibility to the slot use rules.

“Airports are equal partners in the slot process, let them demonstrate their ability to declare and manage their capacity accurately and competently and then restore the slot use next summer,” Walsh said.