Thousands of airline passengers were hit by flight cancellations on Wednesday night due to another air traffic control (ATC) issue.
Gatwick Airport said it was subjected to a restriction in the number of planes that could take off and land because of “short notice sickness” in its ATC tower, which is managed by National Air Traffic Services (Nats).
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren warned that passengers were “being let down once again” and claimed Nats’ “staff shortages” had caused disruption at Gatwick on 29 days since May.
Nats said it is “working in line” with a staffing plan agreed with Gatwick bosses when it took over the provision of ATC services at the airport in October 2022, which includes training further controllers.
A Nats technical glitch last week caused widespread disruption at airports across the UK, leaving thousands of holidaymakers stranded overseas for several days.
PA news agency analysis of flight data websites suggests around 58 flights to or from Gatwick – the UK’s second busiest airport – were cancelled on Wednesday night, meaning around 9,000 passengers were affected.
EasyJet, which operates the most flights at the West Sussex airport, was the worst affected, with 42 cancellations.
The first flight affected by the disruption appeared to be the airline’s arrival from the Greek island of Zakynthos, which was diverted to Luton.
Due to short-notice sickness in the air traffic control tower, temporary air traffic control restrictions were put in place yesterday (Wednesday), resulting in some delays and cancellations by airlines
Gatwick Airport spokeswoman
EasyJet said in a statement: “Nats air traffic control staffing shortages at Gatwick yesterday led to a significantly reduced flow rate being imposed on airlines, meaning some flights were delayed and some were unable to operate.
“While this was outside of our control, we are sorry for the inconvenience caused to our customers and did all possible to minimise the impact of the disruption, notifying those on cancelled flights of options to rebook or receive a refund and provided hotel accommodation and meals where required.”
Among the other airlines to cancel flights from Gatwick on Wednesday night were Lufthansa, Norwegian, Iberia Express and Vueling.
Affected passengers are not entitled to compensation as the disruption was outside of the airlines’ control.
A Gatwick Airport spokeswoman said: “Due to short-notice sickness in the air traffic control tower, temporary air traffic control restrictions were put in place yesterday (Wednesday), resulting in some delays and cancellations by airlines.
“London Gatwick would like to apologise to any passengers who have been impacted by these restrictions. Please contact your airline for more information.”
A Nats spokesman said: “We are training new controllers to safely oversee the 900 aircraft per day that use Gatwick, the world’s busiest and most complex single runway airport.
“Even a qualified controller will take up to a year to complete the specific training required.
“In the meantime, we are working closely with the airport and airlines to deliver the best possible level of safe and efficient service.”
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced on Wednesday that an independent review would be carried out into last week’s ATC failure.
Mr Lundgren said: “Customers are being let down once again. Since May, we have seen 29 days of traffic restrictions at Gatwick due to Nats’ staff shortages.
We're launching an independent review into the technical issue NATS faced on Monday 28 August.
Our review will look at the wider issues around the system failure and how NATS responded to the incident.
Find out more➡️https://t.co/xCT5eP3Xaw#AirTrafficDisruption pic.twitter.com/182QIAusGF
— UK Civil Aviation Authority (@UK_CAA) September 6, 2023
“An independent and wide-ranging review of Nats has never been more urgent.”
Passengers departing from UK airports and ports also saw longer wait times on Wednesday due to enhanced security checks as the authorities search for an escaped prisoner.
Daniel Abed Khalife, 21, a former soldier accused of terrorism, went missing in his cook’s uniform from HMP Wandsworth, south-west London on Wednesday.