The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says that government actions “are emerging as key impediments to recovery”, singling out recent developments in the Netherlands.
As we reported last month, operations at Amsterdam Schiphol airport have been significantly impacted over the last few weeks by strike action and runway maintenance, and IATA’s Director General Willie Walsh said that “Seeing the Dutch government work to dismantle connectivity, fail to provide critical airport operational resources and enable price gouging by its hub airport is a destructive triple whammy”.
The disruption has continued at the airport in recent days, with euronews.com reporting “chaos” as a result of cancellations and delays.
Schiphol is of course not the only airport to be facing operational issues, with staff shortages causing delays and cancellations at UK airports including Manchester, Birmingham, Gatwick and Heathrow.
But Walsh was particularly scathing about actions by the Dutch government, stating:
“Schiphol airport is being allowed by the regulator to repay itself on the back of airlines and consumers for Covid-19 losses with a 37 per cent hike in airport charges over the next three years,” said Walsh.
“Simultaneously, the airport has asked airlines to cancel bookings and new sales this week, at huge inconvenience to passengers, claiming shortfalls in airport staffing, including government provided security functions. And the government itself is planning to increase passenger taxes by €400 million annually with the stated purpose of discouraging travel.”
“The Dutch government has forgotten a key lesson from the Covid-19 crisis which is that everyone’s quality of life suffers without efficient air connectivity,” Walsh continued.
“It must reverse course, and others must not follow their terrible example. To secure the recovery and its economic and social benefits, the immediate priority is for governments to have plans in place to meet expected demand this summer. Many people have waited two years for a summer holiday – it should not be ruined through lack of preparation.”
Wash’s comments came as IATA released its latest passenger data for March 2022, which it said demonstrated the continued recovery of air travel, with little overall impact from the conflict in Ukraine, and Omicron-related effects confined largely to Asian domestic markets.
Total traffic in March 2022 was up 76 per cent on the previous year, although still down 41 per cent on pre-pandemic 2019 levels.
“With barriers to travel coming down in most places, we are seeing the long-expected surge in pent-up demand finally being realized,” said Walsh.
“Unfortunately, we are also seeing long delays at many airports with insufficient resources to handle the growing numbers. This must be addressed urgently to avoid frustrating consumer enthusiasm for air travel.”