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Vueling President admits "having failed" to solve the company chaos of the last weeks

“We have been really focused on trying to solve it but I must admit we have failed”, stated Vueling President, Javier Sánchez-Prieto, in an interview published this Wednesday by Catalan newspaper ‘Ara’. Sánchez-Prieto conceded that mistakes were made by the Catalan low-cost airline’s management during the last weeks’ aerial chaos at Barcelona El Prat airport: Vueling cancelled more than 60 flights in the past four days and most of those flights which did operate suffered from delays, affecting nearly 78,000 passengers. A situation which was made worse by the repeated strikes of French air traffic controllers, the last of which started last Monday. “Honestly and being self-critical we should have appeared ahead of time and communicated better”, he stated. 

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06 July 2016 07:53 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (CNA).- President of the Catalan low-cost airline Vueling, Javier Sánchez-Prieto admitted that the company failed to give explanations regarding the numerous flight delays and cancellations that passengers travelling from or to Barcelona El Prat airport had to suffer throughout the last few weeks. “We have been really focused on trying to solve it but I must admit we have failed”, he said this Wednesday in an interview with Catalan newspaper ‘Ara’. “Honestly and being self-critical we should have appeared ahead of time and communicated better”. Vueling cancelled more than 60 flights in the past four days and most of those flights which did operate suffered from delays, affecting nearly 78,000 passengers. A situation which was made worse by the repeated strikes of French air traffic controllers’, the last of which started last Monday. 


In his interview with ‘Ara’ this Wednesday, Vueling’s President admitted “the planning was made taking into account a level of incidences which in the end has been much higher”. In particular, Sánchez-Prieto pointed out that last year the company grew by 8% and that the number of aircraft in its fleet increased by 10%. Thus, last year the company had two extra planes and this year it has five. However, he announced that another additional aircraft will be added to cover the 102 flights currently operated by the company and 15 emergency crew will be added to operate extra flights if needed.

A backup plan to cover the summer season

After holding meetings with representatives from the Catalan Government and with the Spanish Ministry for Public Works and Transports, Vueling presented a backup plan for the summer season which foresees increasing the number of aircraft and the cancellation in advance of some of the flights scheduled. Besides the 5 additional planes, the company will hire 34 pilots and 130 employees to reinforce customer service. This will be added to the company’s 600 crew members, 400 cabin crew and 200 pilots, which are already in place to cover the summer season. 

The Spanish Aviation Safety and Security Agency (AESA) and the Spanish Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) considered Vueling’s contingency plan “reasonable” but made some remarks, especially regarding the acquisition of new aircraft and the cancellation of flights. The company and the Spanish Ministry for Public Works and Transport will meet again this Thursday to study how the plan would ultimately be deployed.

An airport model which is too centralised

Catalan Minister for Planning and Sustainability, Josep Rull emphasised that the Generalitat has competences “in all that affects Catalans” and its aim is to avoid similar situations from happening again. However, he stated that Vueling’s crisis “goes beyond strikes” and is a “deeper problem” rather than being “just temporary”. “The airport model is not appropriate”, stated Rull “it is too centralised and forces El Prat airport to allow low-cost companies to operate from its facility”. “We want to be a quality airport with as many connections as possible rather than an offshoot of Madrid and its long distance flights”.

Defending the customer’s rights

Rull assured that the Catalan Government would be “very conclusive” when “defending customers’ rights and the quality of the service at Barcelona’s airport”. In a similar vein, Catalan Ministry for Business and Knowledge, Jordi Baiget stated that “the priority of the Catalan Government is not to fine the company” but to “guarantee that citizens will be able to fly on time and to their chosen destination”. However, Baiget nuanced that whereas the Generalitat “doesn’t have full competences in the airport field” it does have this “in the field of safeguarding customers’ rights”. Indeed, the Government sent representatives from the Catalan Consumer Agency to El Prat airport in order to inform affected passengers of their rights and how to conduct complaints and compensation procedures.

The main company operating from El Prat

Vueling is the main company operating from El Prat airport. With 160 routes to and from Barcelona airport, it has grown exponentially since its creation in 2004. Now, it operates on more than 410 routes to more than 160 destinations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, with a fleet of more than 100 aircraft and 23 operational bases. It has carried more than 95 million passengers. The prestigious trade journal Air Transport News named Vueling 2015 Best Low-cost Carrier.

 

Indeed, overexploitation and a lack of planning may be amongst the causes of the chaos of the last weeks. Vueling has to manage 700 daily operations which they have scheduled for this summer season, 400 alone to/from Barcelona. The company’s growth may have not been aligned with their investment in human and technical resources.

 

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  • Passengers queuing in front of Vueling customers' service, at Barcelona El Prat airport (by ACN) t

  • Passengers queuing in front of Vueling customers' service, at Barcelona El Prat airport (by ACN) t