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Summer flights stranded as aviation staff shortages loom

Airport ground handling companies have warned that flights will be stranded on the tarmac this summer because their employees are leaving the industry in droves after being excluded from the latest government aviation support package.

The Australian Aviation Ground Handling Industry Alliance (AAGHIA) said on Monday that flights could be cancelled between November and February due to a shortage of staff at third-party airport service providers, who load bags, check-in passengers, taxi aircraft on the runway, and conduct pre-flight safety checks.

Airport ground handling companies say flights could be grounded over Christmas because they are losing staff.

Airport ground handling companies say flights could be grounded over Christmas because they are losing staff. Credit:Robert Rough

“Hundreds of airline flights will be grounded this summer because thousands of critical aviation ground operations workers are leaving the industry,” AAGHIA representative Ann Maree Jackson told a senate inquiry into the future of aviation in Australia after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms Jackson said that while the federal government last month announced a $750-per-week support package for airline employees, the scheme excluded 9800 employees at third-party specialist providers such as Dnata and Swissport.

“Most of our staff have sought secondary employment simply to be able to pay bills and put food on the table,” she said.

“Hundreds of airline flights will be grounded this summer because thousands of critical aviation ground operations workers are leaving the industry.”

AAGHIA representative Ann Maree Jackson

“Our concern is that when the country opens up and flying resumes, those staff may not come back to us – that secondary employment is a little bit more stable than aviation is at the moment – and therefore we have to recruit new staff. That lead-in time will take us six months.”

AAGHIA estimated that around 6000 of its members’ employees were stood down from work and between 3000 to 4000 did not qualify for government disaster payments because they did not live areas in lockdown.

Ms Jackson said the problem would be easily fixed by expanding the government support scheme to include workers at specialist ground handlers, until domestic and then international travel resumes from November.

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