Airlines seek assurances over future Gatwick service levels

Airlines are exerting pressure on Gatwick to improve its performance after staff shortages in the control tower led to serious disruption over the summer. 

The UK’s second-busiest airport is being pushed for assurances on how many flights it will be able to handle over the next year to allow planning of flight schedules, the Financial Times reported. 

Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, the largest airline at Gatwick, told the FT the issues experienced this summer “cannot be repeated next year”. 

He said: “The priority now must be that Gatwick and [air traffic controller] Nats work together to resolve the staffing issues.” 

Lundgren has written to Nats and the airport seeking assurances over service levels. 

British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle said it had been a “very challenging” time for Gatwick. 

“It is very important it is resourced correctly . . . for the second-biggest airport in the UK, we need to be doing better,” he said as the airline reported financial results on Friday.  

Airline executives said absences in the tower had led to the airport imposing “flow restrictions” at short notice this summer leading to air traffic disruption. 

While the seasonal slowdown in flights over the winter should offer some respite, concerns have been raised that there will be more disruption next summer unless the staffing problems in the tower are resolved.  

Gatwick unusually placed a cap on flights operating from the airport between September 25 and October 15, because of sickness and other “staffing constraints” in its control tower. 

The airport subcontracts operations in its control tower to Nats, the UK’s main air traffic manager, which in September said up to 30% of its staff had been unavailable “for a variety of medical reasons”, including Covid-19. 

Last month 46% of flights from Gatwick departed on time, according to air traffic manager Eurocontrol. That compares with a Europe-wide average of 64%. 

Iata director general Willie Walsh described Gatwick’s performance as ha ding been “very poor” as he called on the airport to improve its staffing levels. 

Nats executives are confident about staffing numbers being restored in time for next summer. 

Nats has also faced criticism from airlines such Ryanair after its UK-wide air traffic management system failed on August bank holiday Monday, causing the cancellation of more than 1,500 flights. 

Gatwick said the airport “hit 99.6% of all measured service level requirements” in the first six months of the year, a period that saw passenger numbers grow 40% year-on-year. 

“Nats . . . have been addressing the staffing constraints as a matter of urgency to ensure they will be able to maintain service levels next summer,” the airport said.

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