Europe’s airports warn of ‘big challenge’ in summer

Europe’s airports face “a big challenge” to cope with passenger numbers this summer, senior aviation figures have warned.

They blame not only staff shortages but continuing Covid restrictions, the war in Ukraine, the boom in leisure travel and passengers arriving at airports unprepared to display documents, and they warn UK travellers face an additional impact at overseas borders due to Brexit.

Jacopo Passinotti, network management director at air traffic management body Eurocontrol, said: “Traffic has come back heavily – 86% of 2019 capacity is in the network – and a lot of traffic has moved west out of Ukraine.

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“Volatility remains and there is additional complexity with Ukraine and airports having difficulties to hire enough staff. It will be a big challenge to manage this summer.”

Lufthansa Group chief operating officer Ola Hansson agreed, saying: “Traffic is much more concentrated at weekends. We are struggling with the peaks [which] are almost as high as pre-Covid. We had peaks before but not as extreme.”

Hansson added: “There is a shortage of personnel all over. [But] the number-one problem is the reliability of ground-handling, with new processes and the need to check documents to some destinations. We tried to digitise as much as possible, but only 30% of passengers have already uploaded documents for travel. More than two-thirds do it at the airport. It takes time and space.”

Rafael Fernandez Villasante, director of operations at Spanish airport operator AENA, reported: “Peak times are at the level of 2019 and the Mediterranean has much more traffic than in 2019.

“It is much more complicated than it used to be. Sanitary measures are still in place. There is uncertainty about new waves [of Covid]. Passengers want to fly and feel back to normal, but they have different expectations of social distancing, ventilation and waiting times.”

He warned: “It will be a challenge to deal with high numbers of passengers. We’ll be back to the level of 2017-18 [this summer] but with much higher peaks.”

Villasante also warned: “Brexit is affecting UK passengers for the first time, [with] new requirements for UK nationals at borders.”

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