Gatwick to restrict flights all week after Covid outbreak

Gatwick Airport
Gatwick Airport

Gatwick has been forced to restrict flights for the rest of the week after an outbreak of Covid-19 led to staff shortages throughout its air traffic control team.

The airport confirmed that it would be putting daily caps on the number of flights until Sunday because nearly a third of the airport’s air traffic control team have been absent due to illness, including Covid-19.

The restrictions will mean the airport is limited to 800 flight movements each day, meaning 65 flights to and from the airport will be cut on Friday, 40 flights will be removed on Thursday and 30 will go on Wednesday and Sunday. Tuesday and Saturday remain unaffected so far.

It comes after staff shortages at National Air Traffic Services (Nats), the body that manages air traffic at Gatwick, resulted in around 50 flights being cancelled on Sunday and 80 on Monday.

Stewart Wingate, chief executive of London Gatwick, said it had been a very difficult decision but it meant airlines could fly more reliable programmes and give passengers more certainty that they will not face last-minute cancellations.”

He said: “We are working closely with Nats to build resilience in the control tower, and this decision means we can prevent as much disruption as possible.

“London Gatwick would like to sincerely apologise to any passengers who have been impacted by these restrictions.”

Gatwick said that airlines would be announcing which services would be cut but most were confident that they could put affected passengers onto new flights.

String of cancellations

It is the latest in a long list of restrictions being put in place at Gatwick due to a lack of air traffic controllers at the airport, which has led to hundreds of cancellations and delays across the summer.

In the last month alone, there have been two incidents, including one on Sept 7 when last-minute sickness meant 40 flights were cancelled.

In July, some passengers were forced to wait for up to 24 hours after one in 10 flights had to be cancelled and dozens more were delayed.

Nats apologised for the latest round of disruption but said it was working hard to train more controllers and increase resilience in its team.

A spokesman said: “However, with 30pc 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.

It added: “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.”

It adds to the pressure on Nats after a technical glitch within its automated air traffic control system led to travel chaos across the August bank holiday Monday, one of the busiest travel days of the year.

A report into the incident revealed there were more than 1,500 cancellations, with 575 flights delayed across the Monday.