Gatwick airport has implemented a cap on daily flight numbers for the rest of the week, as it battles issues caused by air traffic control staff absences.
A limit of 800 daily departing and arriving flights will be in force until Sunday 1 October.
Gatwick said the decision had been made alongside NATS, which operates the airport’s air traffic control tower, with 30 per cent of tower staff “currently unavailable for a variety of medical reasons including Covid”.
Friday 29 September is set to be the most disrupted day for cancellations, with the airport having expected 865 movements (arrivals and departures) before the limit was put in place.
Under normal circumstances the airport would have welcomed 829 movements today (Wednesday 27 September), followed by 840 on Thursday 28 September, and 830 on Sunday 1 October.
Only Saturday 30 September will be unaffected by the limit, as a total of 800 movements are expected that day.
Gatwick said that the daily cap “will prevent last-minute cancellations and delays for passengers while NATS work through challenges driven by sickness and staffing constraints”, adding that “Passengers are advised to check the status of their flights directly with their airlines, who we’ve been closely working with at this time”.
This summer easyJet cut around 1,700 flights from its Gatwick schedules, as a result of “challenging conditions” due to ATC strikes and the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Commenting on the news Stewart Wingate, CEO of London Gatwick, 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.”
In response Ryanair said that it “will not be cancelling any flights to/from Gatwick Airport due to NATS’s self-inflicted ongoing staff shortage”, with a spokesperson stating:
“It is unacceptable that airlines have been asked to cancel flights to/from Gatwick Airport for the next six days (until 2 October) as a result of NATS’s failure to adequately staff UK ATC. It is the most basic requirement to hire and train adequate staff numbers including standby coverage.
“NATS has been a shambles for years, causing unnecessary disruptions at UK airports including Bristol, Edinburgh and Manchester, and now Gatwick Airport for the past four weeks including the complete system meltdown on Mon 28 August, which brought UK aviation to its knees – a mess that has still not been explained.
It is clear that NATS CEO, Martin Rolfe has taken no action to resolve these ATC staff shortages and should now do the right thing and step down as NATS CEO so that someone competent can do the job. We call on the CAA to immediately intervene and protect passengers from this ongoing UK ATC shambles.”