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A summer of Flight Cancellations – The other side of the story

So… Summer has arrived and throughout Europe airports and airlines continue to struggle with staff and training. Major airports have placed limits on the number of flights and airlines have cancelled hundreds of flights.

On many occasions the press only show the frustrated passengers and love to blame the airlines/airports. Yes, it is very frustrating and upsetting for passengers to have their holiday plans changed at the last minute and in many ways the mandatory EU financial compensation for flights cancelled at short notice is no real compensation.

However.. what the media doesn’t tell you is that the cancellations are fundamentally all safety related. Pilots and Controllers for safety reasons have strict medical requirements and working hours limitations. We must not forget the Cabin Crew who are also there for passenger safety – they also have working time limitations which don’t necessarily correspond to the Flight Crew.

It takes many months of training for aircrew and controllers to become proficient and be allowed to fly/control “solo”. You cannot simply go to the job market and get a few people who play computer flight simulator games and have them trained in a couple of weeks!

CAPACITY is the number of flights that Controllers can SAFELY manage through sectors of airspace or at airports during a specific period of time. It depends on factors such as:

Staff shortages

Equipment unserviceability

Runway availability

And of course ……the weather – thunderstorms in particular at this time of year!!

DEMAND is the number of aircraft that would like to fly through a particular sector of airspace or arrive at a particular airport. Demand varies dramatically according to the time of the day, the day of the week, the season of the year….. and of course the major sporting events!!

Whenever CAPACITY is GREATER than the DEMAND, the Network Manager (the entity that provides CTOTs - commonly known as an ATC Slot) issues CTOTs to ensure that Controllers can SAFELY handle the number of aircraft in their airspace. Nobody wants a loss of separation or “Near-Miss”!.

Airlines often roster their pilots to fly 4 short-haul sectors a day. They arrive for their first flight of the day – if they are lucky there will be no CTOT and they take off on time. So far, so good. But……i they could also be delayed by anything from 10mins to 2 hours. If this continues throughout the day, it creates a domino effect, meaning that by the time the aircraft are ready to depart for their final flight they could be 3 hours late!

This presents a new problem. The crew may now be “out of crew hours” or “duty time”. Then by international laws written for SAFETY reasons they are unable to fly until they have had a period of rest.

Then there is the possibility that if they did take-off, by the time they arrive at the destination airport, it might be closed.

The result – the airline has no choice – they have to cancel the flight!.

Pilots and Controllers are struggling with fatigue - they are being asked to work maximum working hours and the cumulative effect leads to further sickness and surprise, surprise additional staff shortages.

There are simply not enough Pilots or Controllers. Mandatory training -for SAFETY reasons -takes a long time. There is no “quick fix”.

At the airports there is shortage of security staff, customs and immigration staff, baggage handlers, dispatchers etc, etc. The airports simply cannot cope. The shortage of airport staff leads to the chaotic scenes that have been seen this year at many major airports. To reduce the delays in processing passengers and avoid these distressing situations they have no short term option, they have to restrict the number of daily flights.

The airlines then have no choice – they have to cancel flights.

So,…what do YOU think?

Is this a true representation of the aviation industry at the moment?

What are YOUR experiences?

What are YOUR views?

What are YOUR answers to the problems?

In YOUR opinion, what does the future hold?

Finally, if you needed our friend “Mr Google translate” to help you understand this blog – perhaps you should book some lessons with us. Particularly if you have your FCL 0.55/ICAO ELP test soon!

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