Chaos at Aussie airports as staff shortages prolong waiting time. Video / 9 News
A pilot association warns that there may be long-term problems with manning aircraft in New Zealand as travelers struggle with flight delays and disruptions during school holidays.
The New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) says the current disruption is
not a result of a shortage of pilots, but the global shortage, and a shrinking pipeline of trainees, could hurt travelers.
Air New Zealand said today that they continued to face disruptions in the network due to wild weather conditions, employee illness and technical problems.
“These conditions, combined with the busiest travel period we’ve seen since pre-Covid, are truly the perfect storm, and our teams work around the clock to help ease this pressure,” said Leanne Geraghty, Customer Manager and Sales Manager.
Geraghty said delays and cancellations could continue in the next few days.
The pilot association’s president Andrew Ridling told the Herald that there had not yet been a shortage of pilots in New Zealand.
Air NZ recruited 1,100 employees to close gaps, with the most acute shortage among airport employees and in the customer center.
The airline said last week that it was looking for about 70 pilots for the turboprop fleet to fill gaps left by those who had been promoted to fly jets.
Ridling said that there was a large battery of pilots who were laid off or left in 2020 who were available to return.
The largest employer here, Air NZ, dropped around 300 of its 1,200-strong group of pilots.
“From a pilot perspective, it’s been like having a battery of pilots that we can start calling back,” Ridling said.
The network had been busier than anyone ever expected, he said.
He said that Air NZ did a good job in difficult circumstances.
“But they are limited by the fact that you just can not go and get a plane and fill it full of cabin crew and engineers that come with it. Pilots can quickly be the limit, but we are not the limit this time.”
He supported the airline’s decision to cancel flights if there was a shortage of staff due to Covid or another illness.
One reason for delays was the very full flights. It took more time to get on board and get off full planes, which can be frustrating for passengers.
Ridling is a Dreamliner captain who has flown through the pandemic and said that the disruptions in other parts of the world were even worse, with around 10 percent of canceled flights in Europe and the American network struggling.
The airports in Sydney and Melbourne have been congested and flight disruptions there.
Riding flown from Brisbane to Auckland yesterday, and a lack of ground staff over Tasman led to a 30-minute delay.
“We’re lucky in New Zealand because I do not think so [it’s] back to full capacity yet. “It’s because of a slow border opening,” he said.
But as capacity returned with the reintroduction of the Boeing 777-300s, more pilots would be needed.
They needed three months of retraining in simulators, in the classroom and direct flying, and he said it was necessary to train the coaches.
Air New Zealand sent pilots to Singapore for simulator training, Ridling said.
“The question, which is really the global problem, is to try to train pilots. It takes three months to get someone in the front door, and then trained and usable. Everyone tries to inject capacity, but at short notice as the government has given it obviously adds pressure on the industry, “he said.
“I expect most people will want to get back to the industry they loved at the time.”
He said there should be enough pilots early next year, even if Air New Zealand’s capacity was restored to near pre-pandemic levels.
But then long-term problems can arise. An increasing risk was that pilots were poached by foreign airlines, which now suffer from severe shortages.
“We went into Covid with a global pilot shortage, and I think it’s going to manifest itself over and over again.”
The association has made the Government aware of its concerns earlier and will again this week.
US airlines were looking for pilots in this region.
“Anyone with Australian citizenship and a pilot’s license can get a Green Card to travel to America. It has never happened before.”
The closure of flight schools for foreign students during the pandemic also exacerbated the problem.
At current forecasts, the Asia-Pacific region saw a shortage of 29,000 pilots by 2030.
Ridling said that despite New Zealand’s airports being full, he did not meet too many grumpy passengers, but asked for patience.
The airline’s employees did their best when the industry – which was on its knees two years ago – was in the process of rebuilding.
Air New Zealand’s Geraghty said to help ease the pressure and help customers who also deal with illness, the airline reintroduced its flexibility policy.
This allowed customers with flights booked between now and 31 July to keep the value of the ticket price in credit for 12 months from the time they requested credit – or change the flight and have the change fee waived.
Around 2,500 people had taken advantage of the opportunity to choose credit during the last 24 hours.
“We encourage anyone who no longer wants to travel to choose credit to free up space for others.”
She said that the airline had many volunteers who came in on holidays and that some of its office-based employees helped on the front line.