LONDON- Air traffic control (ATC) staff shortages at London Gatwick Airport (LGW) resulted in flight disruptions on Thursday evening (September 14, 2023).
The airport acknowledged that a sudden staff absence in its air traffic control tower led to the cancellation or diversion of 42 flights and significant delays for many others.
London Gatwick Airport Delays
These disruptions are estimated to have affected over 6,000 passengers. For example, Laura Neary, aged 29, originally had a 5.30 pm Ryanair flight to Dublin but had to contend with a diversion to London Stansted, requiring her to travel to Stansted by coach.
Ms. Neary, a solo traveler, mentioned that some passengers received text messages instructing them to take a coach to Stansted in Essex, while others were informed that they could still board the flight from Gatwick. She expressed uncertainty about her ability to return to Dublin that night.
National Air Traffic Services (Nats) stated that they had recruited new air traffic controllers since the previous summer, resulting in a 17% increase in their presence. Additionally, they mentioned that more controllers were set to start work once they completed their training.
The senior management at London Gatwick acknowledges the efforts being made to maintain operations and apologizes for any inconvenience to the airlines and their passengers caused by recent disruptions.
Major UK Disruption
“Nats is recognized as a world-class provider of air traffic services, and the senior management at London Gatwick acknowledges the dedicated efforts of the airport’s air traffic controllers to maintain operations,” stated the Sussex Airport in a released statement.
“We are collaborating closely with Nats to enhance the resilience of the airport’s control tower, ensuring that disruptions are minimized.”
This situation follows a recent incident just over two weeks ago when a technical glitch in air traffic control caused widespread disruptions at airports throughout the UK, resulting in thousands of holidaymakers being stranded overseas for several days.
Over 25% of flights to and from UK airports were canceled that day, affecting approximately 250,000 individuals. Cancellations persisted for an additional two days due to the repositioning of planes and crews.
Airline Disappointed with NATS
Ryanair (FR) CEO Michael O’Leary has called for the resignation of Nats’ CEO in response to the recent disruptions. Meanwhile, easyJet expressed its disappointment at the impact on its customers, although it acknowledged that the situation was beyond its control.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, the CEO of Advantage Travel Partnership, a network of independent travel agents, emphasized the need for an immediate inquiry into the apparent staff shortages causing such disruptions and called for measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Michael O’Leary stated, “It is unacceptable that more flights and hundreds of passengers are suffering delays to/from Gatwick Airport due to Nats CEO Martin Rolfe’s blatant failure to adequately staff UK ATC. Airlines pay millions of pounds to Nats yearly and should not have to see their passengers suffer avoidable delays due to UK ATC staff shortages.”
An easyJet (U2) spokesperson expressed regret for the inconvenience caused to their customers and explained their efforts to minimize the disruption, including rebooking options, refunds, and providing accommodation and meals where necessary.
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