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Europe’s Airlines Are Running Out of Pilots Because of High Sickness Levels

Europe’s Airlines Are Running Out of Pilots Because of High Sickness Levels

German flag carrier Lufthansa has been forced to cancel several transatlantic flights over the Christmas holidays due to a pilot shortage resulting from a spike in sickness levels. Lufthansa said it had left itself a large buffer of reserve pilots for the Christmas period but the airline had already run out of spare pilots and now needed to axe a small number of services.

A Lufthansa spokesperson declined to speculate on whether the high sickness rate was the result of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. On Wednesday, Germany reported more than 44,000 new COVID-19 infections as Omicron sweeps across Europe.

The pan Scandinavian airline SAS is facing similar staffing woes and was forced to cancel as many as 40 flights on Tuesday. The airline managed to reinstate some cancelled flights on Wednesday and Thursday but high sickness levels are continuing to impact SAS’s operations.

Local media reported that Lufthansa was struggling to find Airbus A330 trained pilots and flights operated by these aircraft would most likely to be hit in the coming days.

The handful of cancelled services over Christmas are nothing, however, compared to how many services Lufthansa will cancel in the first few months of 2022 because of the Omicron variant.

Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr announced the carrier would wipe around 10 per cent of its schedule because bookings have nosedived on pandemic worry.

“Above all we are missing passengers in our home markets of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Belgium, because these countries have been hit hardest by the pandemic wave,” Spohr said. In total, around 33,000 flights will be cancelled from January through the end of March 2022.

Hitting out at European regulators, Spohr said he wanted to cancel even more flights but the carrier would operate 18,000 “unnecessary” flights just to secure landing and takeoff rights that might otherwise be lost if Lufthansa doesn’t use its assigned slots.

In the United States, both Delta Air and jetBlue have written to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asking for the recommended isolation period in breakthrough COVID-19 cases to be reduced by as much as five days to head off a potential staffing crunch.

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