Fast-expanding easyJet has been forced to cut flights to cope with a series of severe service disruptions over the summer, which it blames in part on a new staff rostering system.

EasyJet, Europe's largest budget carrier following the acquisition of rival Go, cancelled 28 flights in July, affecting 3,500 people. An additional 19 were cancelled on one day in early August.

The staff rostering system, introduced this summer as the airline underwent a 60% annual expansion, split up crews so that some pilots and cabin staff would be arriving on different aircraft. "It looked fantastic on paper but in reality it caused us big problems," says easyJet. The carrier is going back to its old system.

At the height of the troubles, passengers staged a sit-in on an aircraft at Nice Airport in the south of France after being told to disembark to make way for passengers on another flight.

The carrier blames air traffic control (ATC) issues for many of these problems, saying a big increase in delays on last year helped render the rostering system unworkable. However, there is evidence European air traffic delays have actually improved this summer.

 The carrier says it is particularly unhappy with National Air Traffic Services, the UK ATC provider, which has been beset by difficulties this summer. The carrier also blames building work at Luton Airport - the worst affected part of its network - and thunderstorms.

EasyJet has reacted by cutting services operated by Go on the two routes where the carriers compete - Belfast to Edinburgh and Glasgow. This will provide an average of 2.5 standby aircraft in the fleet.

"Go and easyJet announced their intentions to operate on these routes in direct competition to one another on the same day. The head-to-head competition led to an over-supply of capacity and was completely unsustainable," states easyJet chief executive, Ray Webster. "We are determined that this important, but temporary, hiccup does not deflect us from our path of providing safe, on-time, low-cost air travel to millions of travellers."

On the labour front, easyJet, which is heavily recruiting flight crew to match its rapid expansion, is in negotiations with its pilots over a new wage deal, after the pilots rejected the first offer.

Source: Airline Business