Night-flight relaxation ‘option considered to relieve summer airport disruption’

A temporary relaxation of night-flight restrictions is reportedly under consideration by government to ease disruption at airports this summer.

The proposal, understood to be examined by transport secretary Grant Shapps, is intended to ease the pressure by allowing longer intervals between flight departures.

A source familiar with the discussions told the Sunday Times the option reflected mounting concern about staff shortages and potential strikes. 

Officials are said to be concerned that a number of airports have too few baggage handlers to cope with the surge in travellers at the start of the school holidays.

Airline bosses have also claimed that delays in obtaining security clearance for new staff is compounding the problem.

While there is no formal ban on night-time flights, some big airports such as Heathrow have had restrictions placed on them by the government. These include night quotas, which cap the amount of noise the airport can make between 11.30pm and 6am, as well as the annual number of take-offs and landings permitted at certain times of the day.

The government last considered easing restrictions on night flights in 2010 to help ease the travel chaos caused by the eruption of an Icelandic volcano, which left thousands of passengers stranded after flights were grounded across Europe.

Travellers have already been hit with widespread delays and cancellations since Easter as airports and airlines have struggled to recruit enough staff after laying off workers during the pandemic. 

Almost 62,000 aviation jobs have been lost since the virus struck, according to research by the Unite union last year.

Shapps has accused airlines of overselling flights relative to their capacity to deliver them.

The government and the Civil Aviation Authority have instructed UK airlines to begin cancelling flights they cannot provide, rather than waiting until the last minute.

But since since then, British Airways ground crew and baggage handlers have voted for strikes over pay at Heathrow.

The dispute, affecting 700 members of Unite and the GMB union, is over BA’s refusal to reinstate a 10% pay rise to ground crew who were docked wages during the pandemic. The airline is instead offering a one-off payment for this year.

Strikes are expected to take place on the last two weekends of July to maximise disruption and increase the leverage of union negotiators in talks over pay increases. 

The GMB and Unite unions are also consulting engineers and call centre staff at Gatwick, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle on taking action.

BA faces a new threat of action by pilots over pay concessions made during the pandemic to cut job losses.

A proposal from the airline last month to close the salary sacrifice scheme in 2028 was voted down by pilots, who are intent on agreeing a new pay round that would include pay rises rather than cuts.

Martin Chalk, general secretary of pilots union Balpa told the Telegraph:  “Pilots are unhappy with BA continuing to insist on pandemic mitigation concessions as inflation and staff shortages and demand that BA does much better.

“Passengers deserve a reliable service provided by motivated staff, staff deserve recognition for the huge sacrifices they made on behalf of their employer.

“Just as they have done for senior management, staff should be seeing their reward both return to 2019 levels and be increased to recognise the cost of living hikes.”

A BA spokesperson said the airline was “committed to finding a solution” in response to staff demands for new pay deals.

They added: “Despite the extremely challenging environment and losses of more than £4 billion, we made an offer of a 10% [bonus] payment which was accepted by the majority of other colleagues.”

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