Ryanair has said it won’t cancel any flights at London Gatwick over the next few days as a result of the airport imposing a daily cap of 800.
The airline urged the Civil Aviation Authority to intervene and called on the CEO of the National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which runs air traffic control at Gatwick, to be replaced.
Gatwick announced yesterday that a shortage of ATC staff due to sickness, including COVID, has meant it is imposing a daily cap of 800 flights until 2 October and asking airlines to cancel services.
The airline said it pays NATS almost €100m a year, adding it is ‘unacceptable that NATS are still not adequately staffing UK ATC with thousands of passengers unnecessarily suffering delays’.
A Ryanair spokesperson said: “It is unacceptable that airlines have been asked to cancel flights to/from Gatwick Airport for the next six days (until 2 Oct) 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.”
It said NATS has still not fully explained the ‘complete system meltdown’ at Gatwick on 28 August, and added: “This shambles has been followed with more flight disruptions at Gatwick Airport on six separate occasions over the past four weeks and now Gatwick Airport is imposing a daily cap of 800 flights until Monday 2 Oct and asking airlines to cancel flights, which Ryanair will not be doing.
“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.”
NATS did not respond to Ryanair’s criticism, but pointed to an earlier statement in which 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.
“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. 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.
“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.
“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.”