• Thu. Aug 4th, 2022

IATA’s Willie Walsh on operational challenges in the airline industry

ByKimberly A. Brochu

Jun 22, 2022

International Air Transport Association (IATA) chief executive Willie Walsh thinks people need to calm down in the face of operational challenges in the airline industry. While acknowledging the industry’s “technical challenges”, Mr Walsh says recent disruptions in Europe have been isolated and confined to specific regions. He adds that the airline industry’s current challenges pale in comparison to the challenges of the past two years.

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IATA Director General Says Current Issues Facing Airline Industry Aren’t That Serious

At IATA’s annual general meeting in Doha this week, several airline CEOs reported problems they were having in their day-to-day operations, particularly regarding some European airports. Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker spoke about his airline’s recent major problems at London Heathrow. Emirates Chairman Tim Clark rated his airline’s external challenges at nine out of ten.

Rising fuel prices, inflation, Airbus and Boeing troubles and labor shortages are worrying airline CEOs around the world. Overcrowded airports, long queues, lack of capacity and rising ticket prices cause problems for passengers. But IATA’s chief executive rates the industry’s external challenges at three or four out of ten, calling them status quo issues.


“There are a number of headwinds coming our way at the same time. But a lot of them are headwinds that we’ve seen before, and we know how to handle them. I’m very confident that the industry will be able to overcome these challenges.”

Mr. Walsh adds that the recent disruptions experienced by passengers and airlines are not widespread.

“It’s not all the airports, it’s not all the airlines, it’s not every day of the week, it’s not every week of the year. I don’t expect disruptions continue, and it’s important to reflect that every airport or every airline faces challenges, and not every flight is disrupted, so let’s relax. Yes, we’ve had challenges. challenges, but it’s not everywhere, and we’ll find our way.”

IATA Director General Willie Walsh in Doha this week. Photo: Andrew Curran/Simple Flying

Airport labor shortages cause many daily problems for airlines

Labor shortages at many airlines and airports are the root of many day-to-day operational issues that affect passengers and generate unfavorable headlines. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) is reducing capacity this summer as the airport cannot cope with the number of scheduled flights. An unimpressed CEO of Qatar Airways has told reporters that London Heathrow Airport (LHR) tried to cancel A380 flights at the last minute. Frantic negotiations allowed Qatar Airways to bring passengers on some flights but to leave empty.

“We recognize that some airports are struggling to regain (operational) capacity because demand has grown much faster than most people expected. Some airlines are struggling because I think they were hoping to recover staffing levels faster than they were able to,said Mr. Walsh.

The director general of IATA says he has made 58 flights this year. He adds that he has so far only experienced one major disruption at Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport. Mr Walsh said the failure of the passport control system had caused the disruption. He also added that it was not the fault of the airline or the airport.

Willie Walsh and Akbar Al Baker at IATA 2022. Photo: IATA

Qatar Airways CEO has a different take on industry challenges than Willie Walsh

Airline CEOs and IATA’s Director General are quick to point out the challenges facing airports, and the impacts of flows on airlines and their passengers are not the fault of the airline. IATA argues that it is not up to them to tell airport operators how to run their business. But airline CEOs like Akbar Al Baker are growing weary of passengers blaming the airline for problems stemming from airports.

While Willie Walsh is cautiously optimistic about minimal disruption this summer. Mr. Al Baker is less so. The Qatar Airways CEO questioned the ability of many airports to handle the current number of scheduled flights. This limits the ability of airlines to offer additional services and alleviate capacity issues.

“If you look at our departures out of Europe and the United States, there is a huge difference (compared to pre-pandemic levels) due to a lack of personnel to manage our planes. It will be a very great challenge in the months to come, “ said the CEO of Qatar Airways