The transport minister is turning down emergency visa requests for aviation workers to deal with airport chaos that has marred short-term vacations, industry leaders say.
Sources in the sector who spoke to the BBC accused Grant Shapps of precluding filling the shortage of ground and air personnel by amending the government’s list of occupational shortages.
Understaffed UK airports struggled to cope with rising demand during the half-year as tourists were hit by long queues and flight cancellations.
Over the past two years, British Airways has laid off more than 30,000 employees. The half term is the first major test for the industry since travel restrictions in the UK were lifted in March, with the head of one airport saying it takes time to restore headcount.
While queues appeared to have subsided by Thursday, there are fears that the industry will not be able to handle the surge in demand in July and August.
The Ministry of Transport and Aviation has set up a group to discuss travel-related issues during the summer holidays.
Privately, bosses are wondering why some people, including chefs and ballet dancers, are eligible for a skilled worker visa but aviation workers are not.
Ian Costigan, acting managing director of Manchester Airport, said: “Since the beginning of the year we have been working to recruit the people we need to get our operations back on track. It takes time due to lengthy background checks and training, but we were very encouraged by the level of interest.”
The airport has hired 340 people this year and another 500 have passed security checks.
Shapps is inviting aviation industry bosses Wednesday afternoon to discuss travel chaos. He subsequently said that the lack of resources in the sector “does not justify the poor planning and overbooking of the flights they [airlines] cannot serve.” He said he also expressed concern that airline passengers are being unfairly sold tickets for holidays they can’t go to.
The GMB union, which represents many of the aviation workers, accused the transport minister of hypocrisy in the comments, given that staffing issues have “been on the radar for a long time.”
Andy Prendergast, GMB’s national secretary, told BBC Radio 4 on World at One: “Unfortunately, this problem could have been foreseen. This was what we warned about at the moment when the mass layoffs were made.
“We asked the government to treat the aviation industry as a special case, and they refused. And now, frankly, what Grant Shapps has said about this over the past 24 hours is a little disingenuous, given that these issues have been in the eye for a long time.”
Those in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting with Shapps included British Airways, easyJet and Tui – all of which canceled flights – while airports represented included Gatwick, Birmingham, Bristol, Luton and Newcastle.