Gatwick Airport is grappling with a significant air traffic controller shortage, compelling the airport to take the unprecedented step of instructing airlines to cancel numerous flights. With staffing levels at just 30 percent of the required capacity, the airport is imposing strict flight limits to mitigate the impact on passengers.
Cancellations and Delays Disrupt Travel Plans
Throughout this month, Gatwick Airport has experienced a series of cancellations, diversions, and delays due to a shortage of air traffic controllers employed by Nats, the company responsible for managing the control tower. The situation has been exacerbated by an outbreak of Covid-19 among staff members.
Impact on Airlines and Passengers
The fallout from these disruptions is significant, resulting in substantial financial losses for airlines and causing turmoil for passengers whose travel plans have been upended. Airlines must bear the financial burden of passenger care, even though the cancellations are beyond their control.
The Independent estimates that approximately 25,000 passengers will receive notifications in the coming days informing them that their flights have been cancelled.
Daily Movement Cap Implemented
In an effort to mitigate the chaos caused by last-minute cancellations, Gatwick Airport has imposed a daily cap of 800 aircraft movements (arrivals and departures). This limitation is considered the maximum manageable number given the current staffing constraints.
Key Dates and Expected Movements
The cap on aircraft movements will be in effect on several dates:
- Wednesday, September 27: 29 excess movements
- Thursday, September 28: 40 excess movements
- Friday, September 29: 65 excess movements
- Sunday, October 1: 30 excess movements
This total of 164 excess movements corresponds to approximately 82 round-trip flights from Gatwick, affecting around 25,000 passengers.
Flight Cancellation Criteria
Airlines will receive instructions regarding the number of flights they must remove from their schedules on each affected day. They will then decide which flights to cancel based on several factors, including:
- Availability of alternative flights.
- Revenue protection, prioritizing heavily booked flights with high fares.
Passenger Rights and Compensation
Passengers whose flights are cancelled have rights under European Air passengers’ rules:
- Airlines must provide alternative transportation as soon as possible.
- If necessary, airlines must book and cover the cost of hotel stays and meals until passengers reach their destination.
- Passengers can obtain full refunds for cancelled flights.
- Compensation claims are not applicable in these enforced cancellations, as they are beyond the airline’s control.
Recovery and Future Resilience
The hope is that operations at Gatwick Airport will return to normal by next Monday. However, concerns persist regarding the overall resilience of the control tower at Gatwick, as staff shortages have affected 40 days of operation since the beginning of the summer.