Chief of Staff at Heathrow since September 2021, Nigel leads the airport’s Carbon Strategy, Communications and Sustainability & Communities Teams. 

"...over recent months, anyone who has travelled anywhere will have seen that aviation is struggling to cope with the wave of pent-up summer demand we’re now seeing after two years of Covid cancellations.

The biggest problem is a shortage of airline ground handling staff. These are the highly skilled people who manage most jobs at the airport – check-in, loading and unloading bags, bringing planes onto and off stand – but they don’t work for the airport itself, they are typically independent businesses contracted to airlines.

Ground handling is a highly competitive, labour intensive, low-margin business, characterised by short-term contracts. Airlines have driven down costs over the years, and this was one of the first costs they slashed during the pandemic. Across Europe, over 50% of ground handlers left the industry. Many of those with driving skills, such as those who take bags to and from the plane, were snapped up as delivery drivers.  

For months ground handling companies have been trying to recruit and train skilled workers, but if their airline customers aren’t willing to pay market rates, then they aren’t able to fill the posts.  Airlines have not secured any net increase in their ground handling resource at Heathrow since January – and this has become the constraint as demand has grown.

Airlines need to plot a new flight plan..."

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