Gatwick limits flights after air traffic control staffing problems

September 25, 2023 06:21 PM AEST | By PAMEDIA
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Passengers flying from London Gatwick could face disruption this week after the airport said it would be limiting the number of journeys due to staff sickness and numbers in air traffic control.

A daily 800-flight limit, affecting both departures and arrivals, has been imposed from Monday and will run until Sunday.

London Gatwick’s chief executive Stewart Wingate described the move as “a difficult decision”, but said it was needed to create “reliable flight programmes” amid ongoing work with Nats (National Air Traffic Services) to “build resilience in the control tower”.

The cap has been imposed as 30% of Nats tower staff are unavailable for a variety of medical reasons, including Covid.

Gatwick Airport
The daily cap is to prevent last-minute cancellations and delays (Gareth Fuller/PA)

It means there will be about 29 fewer flights on Wednesday, 40 fewer on Thursday, 65 fewer on Friday and 30 fewer on Sunday.

The daily cap is to prevent last-minute cancellations and delays for passengers, who are being told to check with their airlines about their flights.

Mr Wingate  said: “This has been a difficult decision but the action we have taken today means our airlines can fly reliable flight programmes, which gives passengers more certainty that they will not face last-minute cancellations.

“We are working closely with Nats to build resilience in the control tower, and this decision means we can prevent as much disruptions as possible.

“London Gatwick would like to apologise to any passengers who have been impacted by these restrictions.”

Nats apologised to passengers in a statement, but said that a variety of medical reasons means “we cannot manage the number of flights that were originally planned for this week”.

It said: “We have worked very closely with Gatwick airport throughout. Given the levels of sickness we have experienced over the last few weeks we believe it is the responsible thing to do to limit the number of flights this week in order to reduce the risk of daily disruption to passengers using the airport.”

Nats added: “Our operational resilience in the tower will improve as our staff return to work and we move out of the summer schedule, which is particularly busy at Gatwick.

“We continue to train additional air traffic controllers and expect another group to qualify to work in the tower over coming months, ready for next summer.

“Even an experienced air traffic controller takes at least nine months to qualify at Gatwick and very few are able to do so, as Gatwick is such a busy and complex air traffic environment.”

Airlines were affected when about 1,500 flights due to serve airports across the UK were cancelled and many others were delayed on August 28, which was a bank holiday and one of the busiest days of the year for travel.

An initial inquiry by Nats found the problem was caused by its system failing to process a flight plan correctly.

Johan Lundgren,  the chief executive of easyJet, said: “While it is regrettable that a temporary limit on capacity at Gatwick Airport is required, we believe that it is the right action by the airport so on the day cancellations and delays can be avoided.

“Gatwick Airport and Nats now need to work on a longer-term plan so the resilience of ATC (air traffic control) at Gatwick is improved and fit for purpose.

“Our call for a more wide-ranging review of Nats remains so the broader issues can be examined so it can deliver robust services to passengers now and in the future.”

A spokesman for the airline, which apologised for any inconvenience which was outside its control, said that affected passengers would be contacted as soon as possible and may be able to rebook or get a refund.


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