Chaos at Australian airports as staff shortages lengthen wait times video / 9 messages
A pilots’ union warns there could be longer-term crewing problems in New Zealand as travelers grapple with delays and disruptions to school holiday flights.
The New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) says the current disruption is
not the result of a shortage of pilots, but global shortages and a tight pipeline of trainees could hurt travelers.
Air New Zealand said today it continued to face disruptions to its network due to wild weather conditions, staff illness and technical issues.
“These conditions, coupled with the busiest travel season we’ve experienced since pre-Covid, truly make the perfect storm and our teams are working around the clock to relieve that pressure,” said Leanne Geraghty, chief customer and sales officer .
Geraghty said delays and cancellations could continue in the coming days.
The President of the Pilots’ Association, Andrew Ridling, told the Herald that New Zealand has never had a shortage of pilots.
Air NZ hired 1,100 staff to fill gaps, with the biggest shortages being among airport staff and its call centre.
The airline said last week it was seeking about 70 pilots for its turboprop fleet to fill in the gaps left by those who had been promoted to fly jets.
Ridling said there were a large number of pilots who had been fired or resigned in 2020 and were available to return.
The largest employer here, Air NZ, has laid off about 300 of its 1200-strong pilot group.
“From a pilot’s perspective, it was like we had some sort of battery of pilots that we can recall,” Ridling said.
The network has been busier than anyone ever expected, he said.
He said Air NZ had done a good job in difficult circumstances.
“But they’re limited by the fact that you can’t just pick up a plane and fill it up with cabin crew and engineers to go along with it. Pilots could quickly be the constraint, but we are not the constraint this time.”
He supported the airline’s decision to cancel flights if there were staff shortages due to Covid or another illness.
One reason for the delays was the very crowded flights. Boarding and disembarking from crowded planes took longer, which could be frustrating for passengers.
Ridling is a Dreamliner captain who has flown throughout the pandemic and said disruptions have been worse elsewhere in the world, with about 10 per cent of flights in Europe canceled and the US network struggling.
Sydney and Melbourne airports were congested and flights were disrupted there.
Ridling was flying from Brisbane to Auckland yesterday and a lack of ground crew over the Tasman resulted in a 30-minute delay.
“We’re lucky in New Zealand because I don’t think [it’s] not yet fully utilized. This is due to a slow opening of the border,” he said.
But as capacity returned with the reintroduction of the Boeing 777-300, more pilots would be needed.
It took them three months of retraining in simulators, in the classroom and in live flying, and he said a critical point was the need to train the trainers.
Air New Zealand was sending pilots to Singapore for simulator training, Ridling said.
“The problem, which is really the global problem, is trying to train pilots. It takes three months for someone to come to the front door and then be trained and deployable. Everyone is trying to inject capacity but with the short-notice announcement that the government has obviously put pressure on the industry,” he said.
“I assume most people want to go back to the industry they loved back then.”
He said there should be enough pilots by early next year, even if Air New Zealand’s capacity is brought almost back to pre-pandemic levels.
But then there could be longer-term problems. A growing risk has been that pilots have been poached by foreign airlines, which are now suffering severe shortages.
“We entered Covid with a global pilot shortage and I think it will continue to manifest itself.”
The federation has previously made the government aware of its concerns and would do so again this week.
United States Airlines were looking for pilots in this region.
“Anyone with Australian citizenship and a pilot’s license can get the green card to go to America. That has never happened before.”
The closure of flight schools to foreign students during the pandemic also exacerbated the problem.
According to current forecasts, the Asia-Pacific region predicted a shortage of 29,000 pilots by 2030.
Ridling said he didn’t encounter too many grumpy passengers despite busy New Zealand airports, but asked for patience.
Airline workers did their best while the industry, which was on its knees two years ago, was rebuilt.
Air New Zealand’s Geraghty said to ease the pressure and help customers who are also struggling with illness, the airline has reintroduced its flexibility policy.
This allowed customers with flights booked between now and July 31 to keep the value of their airfare as a credit for 12 months from the time they requested their credit – or change their flight and waive their change fee .
Around 2,500 people had taken the opportunity to opt for a loan in the past 24 hours.
“We encourage anyone who no longer wishes to travel to take out a loan to free up seats for others.”
She said the airline has many volunteers coming on days off and some of its office workers helping on the front lines.