London Gatwick Airport has limited aircraft movements to 800 per day until Sunday 1 October due to ‘sickness and staffing constraints’ among air traffic control personnel.
More than 160 passenger flights will be cancelled between now and then as a result.
In a statement, the UK’s second largest airport confirmed the measure, effective from today (26 September), will affect departure and arrival flights.
It says the daily cap is designed to prevent last-minute cancellations and delays for passengers while the UK’s air traffic control services provider NATS addresses the challenges.
The West Sussex hub had been expected to handle 164 additional flights this week, 65 of which were scheduled for Friday 29 September, before the ceiling was introduced.
Around 30% of NATS tower staff are unavailable for work due to a variety of medical reasons, including Covid.
Aiming for return to ‘fully resilient operations’, says NATS
Stewart Wingate, CEO of 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.”
NATS has apologised to those affected by the announcement, maintaining that the decision to cap flight volumes was ‘the responsible thing to do’ to temper daily disruption to passengers in view of staff sickness levels encountered in recent weeks.
“We have trained as many air traffic controllers as possible this year in the Gatwick tower and have safely managed over 180,000 flights so far,” read a statement. “However, with 30% of tower staff unavailable for a variety of medical reasons including Covid, we cannot manage the number of flights that were originally planned for this week.”
Additional air traffic controllers continue to be trained, says NATS, with another group expected to qualify to work in the Gatwick control tower in the coming months in time 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,” the statement added. “We will continue to recruit and train air traffic controllers at Gatwick a fast as possible to ensure we return to a fully resilient operation as soon as we can.”
Passengers have been advised to check the status of their flights directly with their airlines.