Government pledges army won't be drafted in to sort airport chaos

Passengers queue for flights at Heathrow Airport. Would-be travellers have labelled queues at Heathrow
A long queue for flights at Heathrow Airport ahead of the bank holiday weekend. (PA)

The government has said the army won’t be drafted in to sort out the ongoing chaos at airports.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps chuckled when setting out why the army won’t be called in.

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme, Shapps said the army’s key purpose is defence, with increasing numbers of troops being deployed to eastern Europe amid the Ukraine war.

But Shapps didn’t point out the army was deployed only last autumn, during the fuel crisis.

Watch: Airport chaos: Ryanair calls for army to help (from Friday)

And the debate comes after Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said this week troops should be drafted into UK airports for the next “three to four months” to address disruption over the summer.

The aviation industry is still suffering from staff shortages after letting thousands of people go during the coronavirus pandemic. Scores of flights were cancelled or disrupted over the long bank holiday weekend.

Asked if the army will be brought in if things do not improve over the next few weeks, Shapps said: “The army is not a snap solution to every problem.

“Secondly, they are being deployed in increasing numbers to eastern Europe, to the Baltics, in what is a war situation and that’s what the army are principally there for.

Passengers queue for the check in desk at Heathrow Terminal 5 airport in London, Britain, June 1, 2022.REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Passengers queue for the check-in desk at Heathrow Terminal 5 on Wednesday. (Reuters)

“The airports and airlines will need to sort out this problem." Chuckling, he went on: "The government will give them every support, but I don’t anticipate that will include calling in the army.

“They [the aviation industry] will need to fix this problem, we will work with them to do it, but it is on them to sort it out.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan, speaking to the same programme, said the government should allow European workers who were employed in the aviation industry before Brexit and the pandemic to return in order to plug the labour shortage in the sector.

Read more: At least 20 easyJet flights cancelled as travel misery continues for passengers (from Saturday)

“What you can do very easily is make sure those who were in those jobs before, who have gone back to their country of origin, from the EU, are encouraged to come back.

“This is self-inflicted from the government. Listen, it isn’t about COVID, this is about Brexit plus COVID.”

Shapps, though, had rejected this idea, saying: “The answer can’t always be to reach for the lever marked ‘more immigration’." He said there have been "exactly the same problems" in airports across Europe.