London Gatwick Airport has reassured airlines that it has been working on staffing constraints at its air traffic control (ATC) tower to address the issues that led to temporary flight restrictions in September after a group of airline leaders said that the problem could not be allowed to continue.
The UK’s second busiest airport responded to the concerns collated by the Financial Times by saying it was working with UK air traffic control body NATS to fix the problem, while also outlining its success through the rest of the year, saying it had hit 99.6% of measured service level requirements during the first six months of 2023.
A spokesperson said: “NATS, who operate the London Gatwick air traffic control tower, have been addressing the staffing constraints as a matter of urgency to ensure they will be able to maintain service levels next summer.
“NATS continue to train additional air traffic controllers and expect more to qualify to work in the tower over coming months, ready for next summer. We continue to liaise closely with our airlines and airport partners and are keeping them closely informed.”
The original incident leading to the week of flight restrictions was attributed at the time to high levels of staff on medical leave, including some with reasons relating to Covid-19.
While airline executives, such as British Airways’ Sean Doyle, acknowledged that it had been a challenging time for the airport, he said that it was important the airport was resourced correctly, adding: “For the second biggest airport in the UK, we need to be doing better.”
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In addition to Gatwick’s response, NATS also clarified that it was working on fixing the staffing problems at the airport by training new staff, something that can take nine months even for experienced ATC controllers.
A spokesperson said: “We have been very clear that we inherited a staff shortage when we took over the contract last autumn and are working to return the team to full strength.
“NATS is working to a plan agreed with the Gatwick Airport team to recruit and train additional controllers which will deliver further resilience ahead of summer 2024.”
In addition to the recent concerns expressed by airlines, at the time of the restrictions, Ryanair had described the issue as a “shambles” and called on the Civil Aviation Authority to intervene.
While a cause for concern on its own, the issues experienced by Gatwick likely received additional scrutiny as they closely followed a full nationwide outage of NATS’ systems caused by a flight route that its flight plan processing sub-system could not process.