AIRMAIL POLICY // Issue 02 // 2022
Aviation Under Pressure
Working together to find short-, medium- and long-term solutions
Under normal circumstances, it would be a reason to rejoice: after the worst crisis in aviation, people want to travel again. Within a few weeks, demand for flights has come back more strongly than anyone expected. As late as the first quarter of 2022, air travel was still subject to strict travel restrictions due to Omicron.
The problem now: getting the complex air transport system from almost zero back to almost 90 per cent is not succeeding with the reliability, robustness and punctuality that we as Lufthansa Group would wish for our customers. The surge in demand is overwhelming the resources currently available at airports, ground handling services, air traffic control and airlines. A major weakness in many European countries – unfortunately including our home markets - is a considerable lack of personnel.
This also affects the Lufthansa Group. The currently rising Corona numbers are leading to high sickness rates at our company. During the pandemic, like other enterprises, we had to implement urgent restructuring measures to secure the company's future. With crisis collective agreements and short-time work, we were able to almost completely avoid redundancies in Germany. The fact that we were able to manage the painful staff reductions in a socially responsible way was - apart from the sale of our European catering division - mainly due to a variety of volunteer programmes. Due to the combination of high sickness rates and reduced capacities, we are now low on staff in some places.
In addition to the staff shortages, technical disruptions are placing a considerable burden on air traffic. These include failures in air traffic control in Germany and Switzerland, delayed delivery of spare parts for aircraft or regularly difficult weather conditions. The ongoing war against Ukraine is also severely restricting usable airspace in Europe. Massive bottlenecks in the skies are the result. All these factors could not have been foreseen. All in all, they mean that not all planned flights can take place, especially in Europe. As of today, Lufthansa will operate about 95 per cent of its planned flights this summer.
What now? Short-term remedies are difficult. Nevertheless, every day the more than 100,000 employees of the Lufthansa Group are doing everything humanly possible to do justice to their customers even under these difficult circumstances. At our hubs in Frankfurt and Munich, colleagues from the administration are already providing support. All of them, who keep the system running with great personal commitment despite all the difficulties, deserve not only thanks, but also recognition and respect. We know and regret that the patience of many of our passengers, but also the capability of our employees, is currently being stretched beyond reasonable limits.
The decisive factor now is the solidarity of all those involved. Only together can we master the situation. Airlines, airports, ground handlers, and air navigation service providers are working intensely to reduce bottlenecks and give passengers planning security. In Germany, the Federal Government's pragmatic decision to facilitate the short-term, temporary hiring of workers from third countries will help in this process – perhaps a solution elsewhere as well. This personnel is urgently needed in the particularly stressed ground handlers. Another bottleneck is the security checks for which the state is responsible. Here, too, more staff is needed, but, above all, modern technology must be used in order to significantly increase the performance of the control lanes. Police officers could provide quick reinforcement, as they are already security certified. Another possibility would be to deploy employees of the airport operators. This is already the practice at some airports.
But despite all efforts, it is clear that passenger numbers will continue to rise in the coming weeks. The situation remains tense. Almost all companies in our industry are currently recruiting new staff, with several thousand new hires planned in Europe alone. However, this increase in capacity will not have a stabilising effect before the coming winter.
Short-term crisis management is one thing. Long-term changes are at least as important. In order to make air transport competitive and fit for the future, we need two things above all: a high-performance infrastructure on the ground and in the air - for example, modern, digital technologies in security checks and the Single European Sky for air traffic control - and enough staff.