Chaos at most large airports, currently – lack of ground/handling staff, sick crews, cancelled flights, mile-long passenger queues, and bags, bags, bags… as far as the eye can see. These are the images portrayed in the media. Many airports cannot cope with the (still well below pre-pandemic levels of) traffic and are even restricting the number of flights in some cases. And yet, in the midst of all this, as if in some parallel universe as yet undiscovered by any Webb images, the European Commission has decided to return to the 80-20 slot rule, come the winter flight plan. One wonders: Do they not read the papers?!
IATA's Director General, Willie Walsh, is equally astounded, and warns: “The chaos we have seen at certain airports this summer, has occurred with a slot use threshold of 64%. We are worried that airports will not be ready in time to service an 80% threshold by the end of October. It is essential [that] 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.”
Bags of woe, with no place to go
The baggage hall at Heathrow Airport would currently make for one of those 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle images: hundreds and thousands of suitcases, trolleys, and a host of other unusual items that airline passengers have a tendency to feel they cannot live without, piled up, and unlikely to be reunited with their owners for quite some time yet… Apparently the pile is giving off a smell, too. Nice. How did one of the world’s busiest airports, a well-oiled clockwork pre-pandemic, come to this? Over in Rome, handler strikes resulted in similar images, while in the U.S., lost and mishandled baggage cases have increased by 12% compared to 2019. Germany is considering returning to post-war manpower imports to deal with labor shortages during the summer (good luck with that, since e.g. source-country Turkey has tightened regulations regarding overseas work – plus, Germany’s solution is incredibly short-sighted – rather like trying to fix a hole in a dam with a champagne cork), whilst over in the U.S., Delta Air Lines recently sent an empty Airbus SE A330-200 to Heathrow Airport, to “repatriate” around 1,000 bags, and return them to their rightful owners back to the U.S. A reverse “Preighter”, if you wish…
No preighter, no fly
While the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is worried about a continued risk to passenger operations if the pre-pandemic slot use regulations are imposed too early on, the cargo world is biting its fingernails in despair at the relegation of cargo to that of a second-class citizen at the world’s major airports. First off, before the summer chaos began, EASA confirmed, in APR22, that preighters will no longer be able to fly in Europe from the end of this month, since “the logistical challenges that arose in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 crisis no longer exist to the same extent and that those guidelines do not apply anymore.” Yet, on 01JUN22, British Airways resumed preighter flights to Asian destinations to handle e-commerce traffic that had stalled due to increasing passenger figures squeezing cargo space on regular flights. The airline has not yet commented on how cargo streams ex-Heathrow will be handled post-31JUL22, but given Heathrow’s directive this week to airlines that it was capping the number of passengers to be handled per day to 100,000, and they should therefore stop selling tickets, perhaps cargo space will naturally return… Or the flights stop altogether with the capacity vanishing again.
Freight has to wait
Which is what Frankfurt has done… Its recent move to restrict freighter operations on the weekends, at a time when cargo is at its busiest, smacks of a return to pre-pandemic segregationism. And Schiphol-Amsterdam recently announced that it will be capping annual movements at the airport by 12% in 2023, dropping from 500,000 to 440,000 movements a year, for environmental reasons.
What is the betting that cargo will have to again fight for its slots? A mini poll on my LinkedIn page, “Has air cargo been relegated to second place once more, now that passenger flights are picking up again?” revealed that 76% believe this to be the case. While cargo has proven its resilience during the pandemic and is evolving into a more efficient industry with the adoption of flexible as well as digital solutions and processes, the passenger side is now throwing spanners into the works and is once again being favored by airports. If the 80-20 slot regulation comes back on top of this mess, then how will freighters fulfil any slots they receive, if they are pushed into the wings the minute passenger operations have a wobble?
The redistribution and rise of cargo airports
Maybe Disruption Part 2 is now a shake-up of existing cargo metropoles in favor of new ones? The little conspiracist might see a link between Frankfurt/Hahn being rescued financially just days before Frankfurt/Main declared its freighter limits. Over in Munich, which Lufthansa Cargo chose as its Frankfurt/Main alternative solution to cope with the overnight ruling, cargo managers are delighted and ready to do more. While those airports such as Liege, that have made cargo their bread and butter, are continuing to build a solid future on what they do best.
As for passenger services: there won’t be any quick fix before next summer, at this rate.
We welcome and publish comments from all authenticated users.