Heathrow Airport made a decision earlier to implement a two-month cap on daily passenger traffic to inhibit travel havoc prompted by staffing shortages in key areas such as ground handling.
Operational hiccups at London Heathrow have prompted Qatar Airways to reassess a previously considered plan to set up its own ground-handling service at the UK airport.
A two-month capacity constraint has been put in place by Heathrow’s operator to keep daily departure passenger counts below 100,000 during the summer travel season.
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said he is “re-invigorating” the possibility of establishing a service to handle Qatari planes, following in the footsteps of rival Emirates’ sister company, Dnata, which manages its own flights at Heathrow.
“We’ll bring our own brand,” he says. “But, of course, we’ll have to recruit and create jobs in the UK.”
The comments come as Heathrow continues to face crippling travel chaos that prompted a decision to implement a two-month cap on daily passenger traffic.
This was triggered by staffing shortages in key areas such as ground handling.
The move, which saw thousands of bags pile up at the airport, “angered” airlines that were forced to clear out flights during the peak summer season.
Qatar Airways is now having to reduce its capacity by as much as 30–40% in order to comply with the restriction.
“As an operator it’s very difficult for me to tell how long it will take [to resolve],” he said.
He claims that the carrier is determining which of two mitigating strategies—a reduction in the number of seats given or a complete pullout of some services—will be most effective.
“What’s disappointing to me is that we were given such short notice. Airlines need at least three months’ notification to block the reservation system so we comply with the reduction in capacity.”
“But keep in mind it’s having a huge financial impact on airlines – and especially now, when the industry is just recovering from [the pandemic],” he adds.
He thinks that Heathrow’s employment shortage is the result of ground handlers looking for work elsewhere after the pandemic devastated the airline industry.
But he contends that the UK’s “Brexit” withdrawal from the European Union has made this worse.
“Another mistake is that, with Brexit, there are certain professions that cannot be done by [non-UK workers]. These are the kind of works that were being done by people coming from the continent,” said Al Baker, adding that the time required for employees to gain security clearance will further prolong the capacity shortage.
On the Doha-Heathrow route, Qatar Airways uses both Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus A380s.
Al Baker asserts that the “only alternate” to locating sufficient capacity when the Airbus A350s were grounded due to a legal dispute involving skin-paint was to recommission eight of its A380s “at significant cost” — utilising seven and keeping one as a spare.
But he argues that the A380’s reprieve is only temporary.
“We need the capacity but, as soon as I start getting deliveries of aircraft and we get enough capacity, we will ground them.”