Heathrow Airport faces further disruption as refuelling workers announce strike

Dozens of employees will walk out, resulting in a shortage of staff to refuel aircraft

Refuelling workers at Heathrow Airport voted to strike in a dispute with bosses over salaries. AFP
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Aircraft refuelling workers at Heathrow Airport have announced a 72-hour strike in a dispute over wages, piling more pressure on the UK travel industry during the summer holiday season.

Employees of Aviation Fuel Services (AFS) voted to walk out on Thursday, July 21, because the company has not raised salaries in three years, the Unite union said. About 50 personnel are expected to go on strike.

AFS is a joint venture between fuel companies BP, TotalEnergies SE, Q8 Aviation and Valero Energy, and supplies fuel to more than 70 airlines including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Emirates, the union said.

A spokesman for Heathrow said he could not comment on the possible effects of the refuelling workers’ plans. AFS could not immediately be reached for comment.

The industrial action will add to the mountain of problems the travel sector is facing amid a surge in demand for flights while airlines and airports are in the process of hiring and training new staff.

A spokesman for Heathrow last week told The National the number of passengers passing through the airport is at the highest level since before the Covid-19 pandemic began and bosses expect an “extremely busy summer season”.

An industrywide shortage of workers is being felt most acutely at Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, and Manchester Airport, compared with other aviation centres in the UK.

British Airways staff at Heathrow last month voted to strike in a row over pay. The airline is now holding talks with the Unite union in an attempt to avert potential walkouts of up to 500 check-in staff.

BA, which has its main base at Heathrow, has already cancelled hundreds of flights scheduled for this summer.

Airlines across Europe, including SAS AB, Ryanair and EasyJet, have also suffered strikes.

BA on Tuesday said it will cancel hundreds more summer flights because previous schedule cuts aimed at easing disruption proved insufficient.

The airline said in a statement that it has “regrettably” become necessary to further reduce its operations.

Tens of thousands of passengers will be affected by the move to cancel flights at Heathrow and Gatwick.

The government has introduced a slot amnesty, which enables airlines to temporarily hand back without punishment any take-off and landing slots they do not have the resources to use. Under normal rules, carriers lose slots if they do not use them.

Heathrow has urged airlines to take an honest look at their schedules and take advantage of the government’s change of rules to avoid further chaos at the airport.

In May, BA, the UK’s flag carrier airline, announced that it would cancel 10 per cent of flights between April and October in an attempt to avoid having to axe flights on the day of departure. The latest cancellations take this proportion to about 11 per cent

“We took pre-emptive action earlier this year to reduce our summer schedule to provide customers with as much notice as possible about any changes to their travel plans,” BA said.

“As the entire aviation industry continues to face into the most challenging period in its history, regrettably it has become necessary to make some further reductions.

“We’re in touch with customers to apologise and offer to rebook them or issue a full refund.”

The airline welcomed the slot amnesty, saying it is “making it easier to consolidate some of our quieter daily flights to multi-frequency destinations well in advance, and to protect more of our holiday flights”.

Updated: July 06, 2022, 11:41 AM
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