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Gatwick airport capping flight numbers this week due to ATC shortage

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London Gatwick airport has announced that it is capping flights this week as it deals with a shortage of air traffic controllers.

This is separate to the long-running ATC issues in Europe this summer, which have been running havoc with Gatwick’s operations.

In addition to NATS, which manages the airspace above the UK, individual airports also have their own dedicated ATC controllers managing aircraft as they arrive and depart. This is often, but not always, operated by NATS, with airports able to tender this out themselves.

Gatwick airport capping flight numbers this week due to ATC shortage

At Gatwick, this was contracted out to German air traffic control group DFS in 2016. The contract was initially due to run for a ten-year period but returned to NATS in October 2022 for reasons that are unclear.

NATS at Gatwick is now facing an acute staff shortage due to widespread illness, including a covid outbreak, which has led to 30% of their staff being unavailable this week. According to NATS, they “cannot manage the number of flights that were originally planned for this week.”

Gatwick and NATS have come to an agreement to cap flights to 400 per day (800 movements, with each movement a landing or take-off) until Sunday.

Gatwick airport capping flight numbers this week due to ATC shortage

This is a reduction of 164 movements across the whole week, with Friday facing the highest cuts with a reduction of 64 movements (32 flights).

The cancellations are being spread across airlines, likely in proportion to their operations, so easyJet will be most affected. Gatwick is likely to work with the airlines to identify flights which are less busy or where passengers can be easily accommodated on another flight.

Unfortunately, training air traffic controllers takes a very long time. According to Gatwick,

“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.”

Let’s hope they get a head start on recruiting for next summer then!

Comments (18)

  • Dubious says:

    Oh dear, that is not good.

    It is shame that the return of the service back to NATS hasn’t been a smooth success. What I do find funny with the contract changes is that the air traffic controller staff are often the same people in the same role (until they retire) just with different overheads.

    There is also an interesting story behind the original contract loss to DFS in 2016 which might have some relation to the early towel throwing.

  • Nick says:

    Covid is back with a vengeance. It’s rife, causing huge numbers of lost work days and with very little slack in any industry now to cover. The worst kind of freshers flu this year.

    • Ryan says:

      “With a vengeance” you realise that at worst it’s a cold…

      How many times in the past did a cold stop people from going to work / causing news? Never…

  • WARD says:

    Take a controller from another airport. LGW is hardly LHR or ORD. There’s one runway, they leave at one end and arrive at the other end. The weather is fine. What a joke.

    • Graham says:

      You’ve clearly no idea what you are talking about. Can a pilot jump out of a 737 and fly a 747? They both have wings, wheels and engines. It takes around 9 months to cross train from another airport and probably 18-24 as a new controller. Think that’s bad, it takes around 36 months to train at an ATC centre, crazy as they are just boxes of airspace. The radar contact enters on one side and leaves on the other, all you have to do is stop the blips banging into each other, anyone could do it surely?

  • mkcol says:

    It’s a shame they’ve not published the list of affected flights.
    Thankfully Saturday is apparently untouched as I’m going to BBC.

    • mkcol says:

      *BVC damned autocorrect!

      • Gordon says:

        Have you got a new phone? I’ve just received the 15 pro plus, and it’s frustrating that its got to learn niche words again!

        • Birdy says:

          I’m flying easyJet back to Gatwick from Lanzarote today. I got a text yesterday saying there is a change to a smaller plane and offering €500 to take a different flight. I moved to a flight 1 hr 15 later and filled in the form to claim €500.

        • lumma says:

          Do iPhones learn swearwords yet? It was the biggest benefit of switching to android not autocorrecting to “ducking”

          • Rhys says:

            iOS17 is supposed to learn new words better…

            I always just added them to the autocorrect dictionary to avoid this!

  • Gordon says:

    Saw this on a news article a couple of days ago! Not good for pax stuck in the middle!

  • Ane says:

    There was a comment in the comment section of the times, that alluded to recent roster cuts also playing a part – so no resilience left to deal with short term absence.

    • Graham says:

      You can that DFS for the issue, there’s a reason the 10 year contract came back after 6. Buy cheap buy twice!!

  • Mark says:

    We are due to fly back to Gatwick on Friday from Dubrovnik.
    Guess it’s just a waiting game to hear from BA if we are affected.

    • Rob says:

      I had a Dubrovnik BA flight cancelled last year, they put us in a very pleasant resort hotel for a night – couldn’t complain!

    • SamG says:

      I would have thought they’d cancel things like Amsterdam or Nice where they’ve got LHR/LCY alternatives vs these flights

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