BA, Brussels Airlines Latest To Cut Capacity

Credit: Rob Finlayson

Two more European airlines are reducing flight schedules in the face of staff shortages, rising COVID-19-infection rates and capacity shortfalls in areas such as air traffic control.

Oneworld member British Airways (BA) has announced further reductions in its services, while Lufthansa Group carrier Brussels Airlines has acceded to demands from overloaded staff that it should slim its timetables.

BA had already announced last month that it was cutting around 10% of its July schedule, or 16,000 flights for the month, primarily because of the combination of staff shortages at airports and in its own ranks. It said this week it was reducing its flight schedule by a further 1,500 flights, or roughly another 1%, over July.

The bulk of the latest flights to be cut will be on multi-frequency short-haul routes from London Heathrow (LHR) to destinations such as Amsterdam (AMS), Dublin (DUB) and Madrid (MAD). This enables BA to switch passengers on to flights operated by other International Airlines Group carriers such as Aer Lingus and Iberia. BA is also switching passengers on to non-partner airlines, such as Lufthansa, to get to destinations such as Frankfurt (FRA).

BA said it was sacrificing these flights to try to ensure services to holiday destinations were secure.

“What we’ve experienced is a lot of air traffic control delays throughout Europe,” a BA spokesperson told the Aviation Week Network. “It’s really causing issues.” Additionally, he said, “COVID is still a thing and we’re seeing a bit of an increase in sickness.”

The decision to make the latest reductions in schedules had been taken with the aim of building in further resilience to the remaining flights in the schedule, he said. Additionally, BA’s fleet composition makes it possible to swap two Airbus A319 flights for a single A321 frequency, for example.

Meanwhile, Brussels Airlines said that it was cutting 675 flights over the July/August period, around 6% of its planned schedule for July and 5% for August.

This came after complaints by pilots and cabin crews about overwork that resulted in a three-day strike. The airline had already cut 148 flights in June in response to staff complaints and now “they’ve asked us to do more,” said a spokesperson.

The airline did not have staff shortages itself, but was suffering from shortages in other parts of the system, she said.

Air traffic control problems, for example, meant that the skies over neighboring France and Germany were very busy. This led to delays to flights and longer duty times for staff, as well as shortened rest periods, “which is the main issue,” she explained, adding that the problem should be eased next summer following the introduction of a new staff rotation planning tool but, in the short term, “there’s no other solution but to cancel flights.”

Like BA, the Belgian airline is trying to minimize problems by cutting high-frequency short-haul routes where passengers can be accommodated either on other Brussels Airlines flights or on the aircraft of partner airlines.

Brussels Airlines’ long-haul services are heavily accentuated towards African destinations, where there are fewer alternatives available.

Alan Dron

Based in London, Alan is Europe & Middle East correspondent at Air Transport World.