Soldiers reluctant to enter an air war that should be fought by others

Soldiers reluctant to enter an air war that should be fought by others

Passengers at Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport. Picture: Barry Cronin 

They’ve been deployed overseas to chaotic, inhospitable and dangerous warzones, they were on the Covid frontline and have acted as an aid to the civil power during weather-related emergencies.

But a Cabinet decision on Tuesday could see highly skilled and trained Defence Forces personnel providing security to a commercial airport operator, just weeks after the Taoiseach ruled out such a move.

It’s the latest chapter in what’s been a chaotic and turbulent summer at Dublin Airport, which like other major airports around the world, slashed staff numbers during the pandemic, and which is now struggling to cope with surging travel demand after two years of Covid restrictions.

Lengthy security queues, missed flights, cancelled flights, and lost luggage have been seen at large airports globally.

Schiphol in the Netherlands, a major international travel hub, has cut capacity because it doesn’t have enough security staff to handle the passenger volume, and Air France-KLM has warned that it could be months before the airport has enough staff to ease the pressure.

Passengers at Gatwick Airport. Last week, PA reported that Gatwick and Heathrow airports asked airlines to cap the number of flights.
Passengers at Gatwick Airport. Last week, PA reported that Gatwick and Heathrow airports asked airlines to cap the number of flights.

PA reported last week that London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports have asked airlines to cap the number of flights.

In Sweden, many passengers have been arriving at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport more than five hours before boarding time, fearful that long queues could see them miss their flights.

Nearly 2,000 flights from major continental European airports were cancelled during one week this month, with Schiphol accounting for nearly 9%.

A further 376 flights were cancelled from UK airports, with Heathrow accounting for 28%.

After the chaotic scenes in Dublin Airport in late May, the Daa managed to steady the ship.

Last weekend was its busiest since the start of the pandemic, with 91% of the 50,000 to 55,000 passengers that departed Dublin Airport each day clearing security screening in less than 45 minutes.

But on Tuesday, it's clear that the ‘seatbelt warning lights’ are back on, with the Daa flagging its concerns about the impact of rising Covid cases.

One carrier cancelled 13 flights last Sunday alone, citing an outbreak of Covid amongst its staff.

It is in this context, that the Daa decided to ask for Defence Forces help – prudent contingency planning, it has argued.

As well as continuing its security staff recruitment drive, it says it has secured additional screening staff from Cork Airport, delivered attractive overtime incentives, improved queue management, and introduced a contingency ‘triage’ queuing process to manage any potential overflow.

But Defence Forces representative groups have argued that military personnel should not be used as free or cheap labour to cover failings at the country’s busiest airport.

PDForra, which represents enlisted personnel, said its 6,500 members are already “stretched to the limit” and are struggling to fulfil their existing roles before being deployed to guard a commercial airport.

It demeans our profession and role in society. 

“Our members will be rightly asking what are they now going to have to sacrifice as a result of being placed on standby – professional training, their annual leave, time off?"

People booked on flights out of Dublin Airport will be hoping these new arrangements won't mean their annual leave or holidays are sacrificed either.

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