Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary has added his voice to warnings that the chaos in the aviation sector could last for months.
Mr O’Leary told Sky News’s Kay Burley that the UK’s two busiest airports were likely to continue facing the brunt of the trouble, which has seen thousands of flights cancelled in recent weeks.
His words came a day after Heathrow asked airlines to cancel 10% of flights to help it deal with a baggage backlog, and easyJet announced it would need to cut more flights this summer after Gatwick decided to introduce flight caps.
The airline boss said: “I think this problem is going to continue, particularly at those airports like Gatwick and Heathrow, right throughout the summer.
“It will be worse at weekends, it will be better during the week.”
Mr O’Leary said his airline is operating a full schedule and is fully-staffed for pilots and cabin crew.
However, it still saw 24% of its flights delayed last weekend due to air traffic control delays, and a further 15% held up due to airport and handling delays.
He described the problems and shortages as “one of the by-products of the struggle to recover smoothly from two years of COVID lockdown and government mismanagement”.
Push for European workers
“The UK airlines – BA, easyJet, Tui, Ryanair and others – we’ll get 90-95%, well, Ryanair will get nearly 100% of our people to their destinations, albeit with delays.
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“But it will be a less than satisfactory experience and this problem will not be resolved until we start allowing European workers to come in and do the jobs that, frankly, UK people no longer wish to do.”
Mr O’Leary has spoken against Brexit before, particularly the difficulties it brings for European workers wanting to come to the UK.
He said: “If we can’t attract people to do those jobs like baggage handling, like security at the airport, we’re going to have to bring in workers, whether its from Ireland or from continental Europe to do them.
“And Brexit is one of the big bug bears in the system – it has introduced enormous labour market inflexibility in the UK.”
‘This government couldn’t run a sweet shop’
He derided the government’s assertion that the aviation sector had been given a great deal of funding to keep it going during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s the government’s response to everything – this government couldn’t run a sweet shop,” he said.
“The problem here is not one of the airlines’ making.
“We’ve been locked up for two years, (the government) introduced a bogus traffic light system that never made any sense and never worked during COVID.
“Just as we were emerging out of COVID, the Omicron variant saw us locked down again over Christmas and as we emerged after Christmas we were beginning to recruit again and Russia invades Ukraine.
“And the government says the problem is the airlines.”