Flight cancellations will sound very familiar to travellers on this side of the pond who need only cast their minds back to the UK summer when British Airways cancelled over 10,000 flights from its winter schedule, reducing capacity by around 8% between October 2022 and March 2023. In that case, the main reason for the cancellations was alleged to be staff shortages – from ground staff to terminals to the flight and cabin decks – following mass redundancies during the course of the pandemic. The industry has faced challenges in re-staffing as travel restrictions eased and passenger numbers continue to increase.
The focus has now shifted to supply chain issues relating to airframes, engines and spare parts, which have increasingly dominated conversations regarding recovery and growth. Boeing and Airbus have both predicted that supply chain issues are likely to continue throughout 2023 and are creating challenges for manufacturers.
The root of the supply chain issues may be partly down to staffing issues in the manufacturing and parts supply chain - again, following redundancies during the pandemic – along with other causative factors such as a pre-pandemic fall in manufacturing e.g. due to the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max jet fleet. It remains to be seen how much these interlinked staffing and supply chain issues will influence the recovery of the aviation industry as passenger caps are lifted and air travel continues to normalise. Heathrow has lifted its passenger cap (which limited numbers to 100,000 passengers a day) on 29 October but has also warned that a passenger cap could be re-introduced at peak travel time over the Christmas holidays.
This is not unique to the airline industry with many companies grappling with their supply chains and calls from customers for increased diversification in supply chains to ensure resilience into the future.