Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he did not plan to call in the military to help solve problems at airports. Passengers faced huge queues, delays and last-minute cancellations as they tried to leave the UK.
It has prompted some, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, to say European workers who had worked in the aviation industry before Brexit and the pandemic must return. Others, including Ryanair, have suggested calling in the military.
Asked on the BBC’s Sunday morning program about working conditions in aviation and a link between the current problems and the disruption of the pandemic, he said: ‘I have all the sympathy for the idea that during the coronavirus where, frankly, we didn’t have a playbook or a playbook how to deal with it, and I think looking back we could see that we could approach things differently.
He said the pandemic was a “difficult situation” and “we were doing our best”, and that it “meant a considerable amount of disruption”.
He compared it to the Government’s response and the 33 steps taken to address the problems of HGV drivers, “including with the Logistics Generation campaign, which is launching this month, well, I think the aviation is going to require the same thing, generation aviation, to attract people to the sector and make sure people are paid properly”.
Asked if the army would be brought in if things didn’t improve over the next few weeks, Mr Shapps said: ‘The army is not a quick fix to all problems. Secondly, they are deployed in increasing numbers in Eastern Europe, in the Baltic countries, in a war situation and that is mainly why the army is there.
“Airports and airlines will have to deal with this problem. The government will give them full support, but I don’t expect that to include calling in the army.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said ministers should allow European aviation workers to return to fill the sector’s labor shortage. The Labor politician told the BBC Sunday morning show: “The government should recognize that there are shortages in occupation, of those working in aviation.
“It means opening up those jobs to those in the European Union who were doing those jobs before.
“Because what we don’t want is spring misery turned into summer misery. Many families who have saved up, paid for a vacation, and are looking forward to a vacation are going to be disappointed.
He added: ‘What you can do very easily is make sure that those who were in those jobs before, who have returned to their country of origin, from the EU, are encouraged to come back.
“It’s self-inflicted by the government. Listen, it’s not about Covid, it’s about Brexit plus Covid.