The joint biggest shareholder in Manchester Airports Group has finally spoken out amid the chaos plaguing passengers and staff shortages. Between them, Greater Manchester’s town halls have a 64.5 per cent stake in MAG, which owns and operates the airport as well as Stansted in London and East Midlands airport.
Manchester City Council has a 35.5 per cent stake, as does IFM Investors, an Australian investment fund. The nine other councils hold the remaining shares, 29 per cent, but the council and IFM are together the largest shareholders.
In a statement to the Manchester Evening News – after days of passenger frustration over long queues, security gate chaos and post-flight baggage delays – IFM said it sincerely regretted the impact delays were having on holidaymakers. There was no apology, but IFM revealed it was working with the MAG senior management team to ‘resolve the issues’, citing labor shortages.
READ MORE: It was once a source of pride… but now that’s finished – so why is Manchester Airport in such a mess?
An IFM spokesperson told the MEN: “We sincerely regret the impact these delays are having on passengers and customers. We are supporting the MAG management team as they work to resolve the issues as quickly as they can, understanding the significant impact that labor shortages are having on the aviation and other industries at this time.”
The statement comes on the day the chief executive of Manchester Airports Group, Charlie Cornish, wrote an open letter to passengers in which he apologized and warned holidaymakers could face peak-time queues of up to 90 minutes until the summer.
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In a candid admission, he said: “The simple fact is that we don’t currently have the number of staff we need to provide the level of service that our passengers deserve. I also want to be clear that a huge amount of work is going into improving the situation in the short-term. Our focus for the next four weeks is on delivering a more predictable and reliable level of service for passengers.”
Mr Cornish also revealed the extent of an ongoing recruitment drive, saying MAG had interviewed ‘more than 4,000 people’ for a variety of roles at the airport over the last two months alone. Many of them have started, with a further 250 new hires expected to start in early May following security vetting and training.
Passengers have faced long delays and chaotic scenes in recent weeks, with queues trailing outside terminals to reach check-in desks and hordes of people waiting to get through security and to pick up luggage. The airport’s managing director, Karen Smart, resigned on Tuesday.
IFM’s statement follows an apology issued this week by baggage handler Swissport. Passengers have faced long delays waiting for their bags to be placed on carousels in the airport’s baggage reclaim halls – leading to many deciding to walk out and collect their cases later from lost property. the Manchester Evening News has been sent dozens of photographs taken at the airport showing hundreds of items of left luggage, with one pile captured two DAYS after a flight landed.
After cutting thousands of jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, the aviation industry in general is suffering from difficulties recruiting staff and waiting for security checks to be passed on new employees. There has also been a recent rise in coronavirus-related staff sickness. Pressure on airlines and airports has increased due to the surge in demand for travel during the Easter school holidays.
Airlines, meanwhile, were urged today to set ‘deliverable’ schedules after a series of flight cancellations. British Airways and easyJet have recently canceled a total of more than 100 daily flights, and passengers at Heathrow and Birmingham Airports have also complained of long queues.
Aviation regulator the Civil Aviation Authority has warned airlines that late-notice cancellations and excessive delays are “not just distressing for affected consumers but have the potential to impact confidence levels across the industry”.
In a letter, chief executive Richard Moriarty acknowledged that many carriers are in the process of recruiting large numbers of staff but “it is clear that this has not always happened sufficiently quickly to cope with the increased passenger travel in recent days”.
He wrote: “Given the consequences for passengers of canceled and disrupted journeys, I encourage you to do all you can to ensure that you have the necessary level of appropriately-trained and cleared staff resources in place.” I have added that it is “very important” that airlines set schedules “on a basis that is deliverable given available staff (including contractors), and has resilience for staff sickness, including from Covid”.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.