London Heathrow airport, gearing up to add hundreds of staff to handle a long-awaited rebound in travel, is seeing some of its existing workers poached by Amazon.com Inc.
A number of drivers have left to work for the online retailer, even as Heathrow seeks to hire 200 to 300 people for customer-facing roles, Chief Executive Officer John Holland-Kaye said in an interview. The U.K. hub has also lost some engineers, he said.
“That’s one of the reasons that we are increasing our recruitment, to make sure we’ve got a good pipeline of talent,” Holland-Kaye said. “We’re starting to plan ahead for the extra people we’ll need to serve passengers for Easter next year and for summer.”
The hiring strains mirror a shift in demand in the wider U.K. economy, fed by the departure of European Union citizens following Brexit and a workforce that’s become pickier about jobs after saving up money during the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier in the year, Heathrow unions battled the airport over a plan to lower pay for thousands of workers.
Heathrow reported its first full quarter of passenger growth since the start of Covid-19 on Tuesday, as travel restrictions in the U.K. and elsewhere were loosened. The U.S. is poised to reopen its borders to vaccinated foreigners including British and EU citizens on Nov. 8, while Asian countries such as Singapore are starting to lighten curbs as well.
Read: Singapore to Open Travel Lanes With Australia, Switzerland
“If we’re right about demand coming back to materially higher levels over the next 12 months, we need to start hiring people now,” Holland-Kaye said.
Heathrow, normally the busiest airport in Europe, is still losing 3 million pounds a day and remains “some years away” from the pace of 70 million passengers per year that it typically needs to show a profit, Holland-Kaye said.
The driver shortage -- which led some U.K. petrol stations to run empty in recent weeks -- reflects inflationary pressures facing aviation globally as the industry tries to bounce back from its worst-ever crisis.
Competition for drivers is intense, with Amazon having to pay bonuses to drivers and warehouse staff, as well as higher rates, said Neil Jordan, vice president at consultancy Proxima, which works with companies on procurement and logistics strategy.
“If you’re a qualified driver, you can choose where you want to go at the moment,” he said.
Fuel prices are also rising, putting pressure on airline profits, while carriers including Southwest Airlines Co. in the U.S. are having trouble finding workers.
The labor shortages contrast with global industry job losses that totaled 350,000 in the first six months of the coronavirus pandemic.
Heathrow reached a pay deal with unions in August, after shrinking its front-line, or customer-facing roles by 27% to 5,800 without resorting to compulsory redundancies, according to airport spokesman Weston Macklem.
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