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Delays at Gatwick airport as flights diverted due to shortage of air traffic control staff

Flights have been cancelled, delayed or diverted at Gatwick airport, due to a shortage of air traffic controllers.

Dozens of arrivals and departures were affected on Thursday evening, with passengers being advised to contact their airline for further information.

In a statement, the airport said that “temporary air traffic control restrictions” had been put in place due to a “short notice staff absence”.

The airport is working closely with National Air Traffic Services (Nats) to minimise delays, a spokesperson added.

It comes after thousands of flights to and from the UK were cancelled over the August bank holiday weekend due to a network-wide failure of air traffic control (ATC) systems.

A London Gatwick airport spokesperson said: “Due to a short-notice staff absence in the air traffic control tower, temporary air traffic control restrictions have been put in place this evening. This will cause some delays.

“London Gatwick would like to apologise to any passengers who have been impacted by these restrictions. Please contact your airline for more information.

Nats are a world-class provider of air traffic services and London Gatwick’s senior management recognises how hard the airport’s air traffic controllers are working to keep the operation moving. We are working closely with Nats to build resilience in the airport’s control tower to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum.”

National Air Traffic Services (Nats) said: “Air traffic control restrictions have been put in place this afternoon, due to a short-notice staff absence affecting our air traffic control team at Gatwick airport.

“We are working closely with the airport to ensure we can handle flights with as little disruption as possible and we apologise very sincerely to people who have been inconvenienced [as a result of unavoidable diversions].

“We are working closely with Gatwick airport Ltd to build resilience in the airport’s control tower to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum.

“New air traffic controllers have been recruited since last summer, increasing our presence by 17 per cent, and others are due to start after completing their training, in line with the agreed plan when Nats took over the contract last October.

“London Gatwick’s senior management understands that we are working hard to keep the operation moving. Airlines operating at London Gatwick were aware of the situation when Nats was appointed, but that does not dilute the apology we offer sincerely to them and their passengers who have been inconvenienced by recent disruption.”

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary told the BBC: “It is unacceptable that more flights and hundreds of passengers are suffering delays to/from Gatwick airport due to Nats CEO Martin Rolfe’s blatant failure to adequately staff UK ATC.

“Airlines are paying millions of pounds to Nats each and every year and should not have to see their passengers suffer avoidable delays due to UK ATC staff shortages.”

Rory Boland of consumer group Which? also said it was “unacceptable” that passengers were experiencing air traffic control issues so soon after last month’s chaos.

easyjet repatriation flights travel disruption flights ryanair
People wait near the easyJet check-in desks at Gatwick airport (Photo: Carl Court/Getty)

He added: “This is not an issue caused by airlines, but they must meet their legal obligations to look after passengers and provide them with support during delays and help with refunds and rerouting – including with other carriers if necessary.

“To help end this cycle of miserable passenger experiences, the Prime Minister must play his part and prioritise legislation to give the CAA stronger enforcement powers in the King’s Speech later this year.”

More than a quarter of flights to and from UK airports were cancelled on 28 August, due to an ATC glitch, affecting around 250,000 people.

Cancellations continued for two more days as planes and crews were out of position.

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