Give airlines freedom to compete with each other and end travel chaos

Even before schools are closed or the holiday season really gets underway, airlines are buckled under the strain.

EasyJet is reducing its flights because it can’t find staff to get the planes airborne, and even if it does get one off the runway, sandwiches will likely run out. Baggage piles up at Heathrow. It can only be a matter of time before British Airways’ computer system experiences its now-traditional summertime meltdown.

In this country it is tempting to imagine that this is a British crisis made worse by our departure from the European Union. And yet that would be a mistake. The airports in France, Spain and the USA are similarly chaotic. Even the hyper-efficient Swiss can hardly fly from Zurich and Geneva.

We know the problems. After being shut down during the pandemic, airlines have laid off staff and reduced capacity to try and stay afloat. This year, travel has recovered sharply, and everyone is dying to go on vacation again.

The result? The reduced capacity has collided with a sudden surge in demand. Add to this rising fuel prices, runaway inflation and a general labor shortage, and a system that was already operating on razor-thin profit margins and no overcapacity is beginning to buckle. At this rate, the summer top will be dismal.

There are already calls for governments to intervene. The army should be sent to clean up the mess. The airlines should be brought back under state control to rebuild the old national airlines. And tougher new regulations should crack down on the low-cost airlines.

In fact, Germany, France and Italy have already renationalized their national airlines. The UK and some other countries may not be far behind.

But hold on. In fact, there is a much better solution. A new wave of deregulation to make the industry more competitive and attract new players with fresh ideas. Such as? It’s not hard to think of places to start.

First, if airlines can’t fill their landing pads because they don’t have the staff, the planes, or the ground crew, then they should lose them. Sell ​​the slots to newcomers, or better yet, give them away to anyone with some bright ideas on how to run the industry more efficiently.

Next, how about reducing the hours a pilot has to spend in the air before getting a license to fly? The simulators are brilliant and flight safety has improved significantly over the past twenty years (although Boeing has had some issues). If more pilots were available, this would automatically increase the number of planes that could be put in the sky.

Third, make cabin crew flight hours tax-free, for the same reasons alcohol and cigarettes are sold duty-free. That would automatically raise salaries and increase the number of people willing to spend their days pouring drinks into a brightly colored metal tube. Fourth, speed up the security staff turnaround so it was easier to recruit people to man all the scanners and checkpoints and they didn’t have to wait so long before they went on duty.

While we were at it, we could scrap some 20-year-old rules. It’s been a long time since anyone tried to crash a plane with a bottle of water and a wave through would reduce the delays.

Finally getting tough with the airport operators. These are private companies with local monopolies. If they can’t run them efficiently, take away the license and offer it to someone who can. Sure they will complain. But it’s her own fault.

Unfortunately, many governments will respond to the crisis by simply trying to replicate the old-style, over-regulated flag-bearers of thirty or forty years ago.

In almost every developed country in the world, politicians and policy makers instinctively reach for solutions straight out of the 1960s and 1970s.

The problem is that it will only replace one terrible system with an even worse one, reducing competition and restricting flying to a tiny, wealthy elite who can afford the astronomical prices these airlines charge.

The last wave of deregulation in the 1980s made flying more affordable than ever. Right now we need a new wave of deregulation to bring new players into the industry who can work more efficiently and try out new ideas – because this is the only way to finally end the chaos.