Send in the army to help sort airport chaos, Ryanair boss urges

The boss of Ryanair has called for the army to be brought in to ease disruption at airports which have struggled to cope with demand over the half-term.

Industry experts have blamed staff shortages for flight delays and cancellations that led to thousands of passengers being stuck in hours-long queues at airports.

Meanwhile, aviation industry figures said Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, was risking further chaos by rejecting calls for an emergency visa for aviation workers.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said the army could fill the gaps left by some of the more than 30,000 employees who have been laid off by UK airlines since the pandemic.

The boss of the budget flight giant said: “Bringing in the army, which they do at many other European airports, would, at a stroke, relieve the pressure on airport security and would mean that people have a much better experience – not just this weekend, but for each weekend over the next three, four months.”

He also hit back at Mr Shapps for claiming that airlines and travel firms “seriously oversold flights and holidays relative to their capacity to deliver”.

The transport secretary, after meeting with aviation leaders on Wednesday, said “all efforts should be directed at there being no repeat of this over the summer”.

Mr O’Leary said no airline would “deliberately sell a flight that they can’t crew or operate” and that “pinch points” would remain at airports throughout summer.

He added: “Army personnel, defence personnel who are good at providing security could relieve the pressure. And that would be something useful that this government could do instead of blaming the airports or the airlines, which doesn’t solve anything.”

Half-term has been the industry’s first major test since Covid travel restrictions were lifted in March. Although queues appear to have died down since the peak of disruption at the weekend, there are fears that the industry will not be able to cope with the resurgence in demand in July and August.

The head of Manchester Airport – one of the worst affected this week – warned it “takes time” to rebuild staff numbers and airlines are struggling to recruit new workers and have their security checks processed. Some industry figures suggested that Brexit had a negative impact on recruitment.

Sources told the BBC that Mr Shapps had ruled out filling gaps in the sector by amending the government’s “shortage occupation” list – which makes it easier for foreign workers to get a UK visa.

Another source told The Times that Mr Shapps rejected a proposal from Sean Doyle, head of British Airways, to recruit staff from countries with high unemployment as the Home Office would not accept it.

Privately, bosses have questioned why some workers – such as chefs and ballet dancers – are entitled to a skilled worker visa while aviation employees are not.

The blame game over who was responsible for the airport chaos continued on Thursday with the head of the GMB union accusing the transport secretary of being “disingenuous” for chastising the industry when the “problems have been on the radar for a long time”.

Though the underlying issues are far from resolved, travel disruption has eased significantly, with queues at Heathrow said to be a quarter of the length of a couple of days ago.

An airport spokesman said: “While there have been some queues at times, our colleagues have worked incredibly hard to keep the terminals flowing. With most holidaymakers now already safely away, the terminals are quieter than at the start of the week.”

The Department for Transport and the aviation industry have set up a group to discuss mitigating travel issues ahead of the summer holidays.

Travellers queue at Gatwick airport on Tuesday


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