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Sydney Airport hopeful these school hols will be smoother than last

Jenny WigginsInfrastructure reporter

Sydney Airport does not expect to be fully staffed until early 2023, but is hopeful travel during the school holidays – which begin on Saturday in NSW – will be smoother than the winter holidays.

β€œAll things going well, we anticipate that we should be back to where we were pre-COVID in terms of staffing levels by the first quarter next year,” chief executive Geoff Culbert told The Australian Financial Review.

Airport security services still needed to add an extra 100 people, Mr Culbert said. β€œTheir forecast is that they should get there by the end of the year.” It takes about eight-10 weeks to train and accredit security screening staff.

Sydney Airport says more people, including security screeners, are being hired and it hopes to be fully staffed by early 2023.Β Louie Douvis

The CEO said the recovery in travel has outpaced the recovery in jobs. While the airport had hired more people this year, the number of flights it handled is also expected to increase, as Asian countries such as Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan drop COVID-19 restrictions and open up to Australian travellers over the next few months.

β€œIf we hit our recruitment targets over the next three months we should be able to handle those markets opening up,” he said.

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β€œWe’re 85 per cent recovered on domestic [passenger numbers] and 65 per cent recovered on international, so there is still some way to go to get back to pre-COVID levels.”

Job shortages remain throughout the airport. β€œEvery employer that we speak to at the airport is still suffering from labour shortages,” Mr Culbert said, adding that workers were also absent on some days due to illness, including COVID-19.

In April, up to 30 per cent of airport workers were ill on any given day, and while the absenteeism rate has dropped to 10 per cent, it is still higher than pre-COVID levels.

β€œWhen you factor in the labour shortages together with the absenteeism, it’s still a challenge,” Mr Culbert said.

About 30,000 people were employed throughout Sydney Airport at about 800 companies before COVID-19, and some 15,000 jobs were lost during the pandemic.

The airport started recruiting for vacant jobs at the start of the year, with about 10,000 jobs filled, but is still looking for about 4000-5000 people.

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Sydney Airport had a jobs fair in June, where 2500 people were hired, and had another jobs fair on Wednesday to try to boost staffing levels ahead of Christmas. About 4000 people attended, with the airport hoping half of them will be hired.

The airport is confident that it is better-prepared for the September school holidays than the July holidays, when long queues caused chaos and complaints.

The airport hired an events management company, which are β€œexperts in queuing”, about six months ago and has gained experience managing travellers, with about 60 staff dressed in green vests dedicated to helping people make their flights, Mr Culbert said.

About 80,000 people travelled through the airport’s domestic terminals on Friday with β€œvery little” queuing, he said. Flights were disrupted on Thursday due to bad weather.

Rising interest rates, which reduce disposable income for people with mortgages, did not appear to yet be hurting peoples’ willingness to travel, Mr Culbert said.

Brisbane Airport also had a β€œcareers expo” on September 10 that was attended by more than 5000 people.

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ISS, which operates security services, was able to get 100 people into its training program, while Alliance Airlines is reviewing 200 resumes, and airport hotels recruited 25 people, according to the Queensland airport.

Melbourne Airport said that while its staff levels were better than six months ago, it still had β€œnumerous positions” to fill.

Jenny Wiggins writes on business, specialising in infrastructure and transport. Connect with Jenny on Twitter. Email Jenny at [email protected]

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  • Airports
  • Sydney Airport
  • Aviation
  • Jobs

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