The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he does not anticipate calling in the Army to help with issues at airports. Passengers have faced huge queues, delays and last-minute cancellations as they try to leave the UK.
It has prompted some, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, to say European workers who had worked in the aviation industry before Brexit and the pandemic to return. Others have suggested bringing in the military.
Asked on BBC’s Sunday Morning programme about working conditions in aviation and a link between current issues and the pandemic disruption, he said: “I have every sympathy with the idea that during coronavirus where, frankly, we didn’t have a manual or a textbook about how to deal with it, and I think looking back we could see that we might approach things differently.”
He said the pandemic was a “difficult situation” and “we were doing our best”, and it “did mean a considerable amount of disruption”.
He compared it with the Government’s response and 33 measures taken to tackle HGV driver issues, “including with the generation logistics campaign, which launches this month, well I think aviation is going to require the same thing, generation aviation, to attract people to the sector and make sure that people are properly paid”.
Asked if the Army will be brought in if things do not improve over the next few weeks, Mr Shapps said: “The Army is not a snap solution to every problem. Secondly they are being deployed in increasing numbers to eastern Europe, to the Baltics, in what is a war situation and that’s what the Army are principally there for.
“The airports and airlines will need to sort out this problem. The Government will give them every support, but I don’t anticipate that will include calling in the Army.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said ministers should allow European aviation workers to return in order to plug the labour shortage in the sector. The Labour politician told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “The Government should recognise there are shortages in the occupation, of those who work in aviation.
“That means opening up these jobs to those from the European Union who were doing these jobs before.
“Because what we don’t want is a spring misery turned into a summer misery. Many families who have saved, who have paid for a holiday and are looking forward to a holiday are going to be let down.”
He added: “What you can do very easily is make sure those who were in those jobs before, who have gone back to their country of origin, from the EU, are encouraged to come back.
“This is self-inflicted from the Government. Listen, it isn’t about Covid, this is about Brexit plus Covid.”