Flights at the Airport in the Smog

Aviation vetting delays at major UK airports

The recent Easter break in the UK has seen large queues winding through British airports. Long delays at customs have been widespread, and many flights have been cancelled or missed due to industry-wide staff shortages and delays in the already lengthy government screening process for new recruits.

Hundreds of aviation jobs were cut during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has meant that many airports and airlines have struggled to re-hire enough staff in time to cope with the increased demand for travel since the majority of travel restrictions were lifted in February. High numbers of existing staff are also reported to be absent with Covid infections, particularly affecting air-lines at Gatwick.

In addition to a shortage of staff, new joiners or workers who are re-joining the industry are fac-ing lengthy waits for their pre-employment screening before they are able to start their jobs.

“Airside” screening processes—what is involved?

The process of screening aviation workers who will be working “airside” (that is, working beyond passport and customs control, with access to planes, baggage and runways) is understandably robust and usually takes approximately 14-15 weeks to complete due to the level of scrutiny involved. Generally, candidates will require five years of employ-ment and criminal record history, before official vetting through the UK Security Vetting (UKSV) service which is run by the Cabinet Office.

An anonymous industry source informed The Telegraph that this vetting is taking “substantially longer” than normal. Other industry sources have also cited the Covid-19 pandemic as a contributing factor to the speed of checks, due to the intermittent em-ployment record of candidates during the pandemic (perhaps working in other indus-tries, working several part-time jobs, or not working at all) meaning that more gaps in employment need to be confirmed, or multiple previous employers from part-time or sporadic work may have to be contacted.

Potential options to fast-track vetting?

The Telegraph have since obtained a leaked letter, written by aviation minister Robert Courts, who has proposed that aviation screening should be relaxed in the coming weeks to ease the problem. Under the new proposal, staff would be allowed to begin training whilst awaiting their full security vetting, however they will not be allowed access to planes, baggage or runways during this time.

In answer to concerns that speeding up these checks could compromise nation-al security, Courts stressed in the letter that:

“...while we are acutely conscious of the need to get more staff into your operations, we have to balance this against the risk of insider threat and other security factors...This will always be our primary focus.”

A government spokesman has since stated:

“Using our post-Brexit freedoms, we are looking at ways to help industry speed up job reference checks. However, we will not allow people to work in the sector when they have not been subject to the appropriate inquir-ies.”

Kully Sandhu, managing director of Aviation Recruitment Network Ltd, spoke to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, stating:

“Each airport has the option to scale their checks slightly higher if they want to, each company that operates within the airport can adapt the checks...But the fundamental basics are the same, five years of background checks to cover an individual's back-ground history, whether they've been employed, in education, any bouts of any kind of benefits, any bouts of period abroad. All these need to be identified.”

It is yet to be seen how this issue will be dealt with in the coming months, however there appears to be a general consensus that certain elements of the necessarily robust airside screening process simply cannot be fast-tracked and that security concerns must take precedence.

In March 2022, a pilot was jailed after being found to have lied on his CV about his previous experience. The pilot had entered false details and altered entries in his flight logs to appear more experienced than he was. Sentenced to 12 months in prison, this example demonstrates how important thorough pre-employment aviation screening can be in safeguarding the public.

Adobestock 497715574

Contact Us

Contact our team to find out more.