London Gatwick airport restricts flight numbers for week amid air traffic control problems

Airport a key hub for traffic to and from Ireland

Thousands of passengers flying to and from Gatwick this week will have their flights cancelled after the airport announced a cap on movements because of a shortage of staff in air traffic control.

Gatwick imposed an immediate cap on Monday of 800 flights taking off or landing a day.

The airport said it would share the total of 164 cancellations proportionately between airlines until Sunday, with EasyJet passengers most likely to be affected given the carrier operates just under half of all Gatwick flights.

People travelling on Friday are most likely to be hit, with 865 flights scheduled to depart. The airport and airlines are expected to announce cuts on Tuesday.


Aer Lingus operates about five flights per day from Dublin to Gatwick, according to its website.

Gatwick said the move was to reduce on-the-day cancellations and chaos and allow more passengers to be rebooked in advance. Short-notice staff absences in the air traffic control team have resulted in dozens of flights being cancelled, delayed or rerouted in recent weeks.

The airport was forced to apologise to thousands of travellers whose plans were thrown into chaos after more than 40 flights were affected by staff absences.

About 30 per cent of those at Gatwick working for Nats, which is contracted to provide air traffic control services at the airport, are understood to be sick or unable to perform full duties.

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick’s chief executive, said he had received repeated assurances from Nats after temporary air traffic control restrictions were put in place at the airport earlier this month, but the situation was not improving.

He said it was “a difficult decision to take” but Gatwick was “trying to give that certainty” to airlines and passengers.

After the disruption earlier this month the outspoken Ryanair chief executive, Michael O’Leary, called on Martin Rolfe, the boss of Nats, to resign over a “blatant failure to adequately staff UK air traffic control”.

Wingate did not echo that demand but called on Rolfe to “put maximum effort into keeping this disruption to a minimum and to redouble their efforts to have more resilience in our tower”.

He added: “They must deliver on the commitment that they made to us when we gave them the contract – not only for our own good but for the good of the airlines, and most importantly for passengers.”

Last summer, Heathrow airport introduced a daily limit of 100,000 passengers as it struggled to cope with the post-pandemic increase in travel, with travellers facing long queue times amid shortages of ground staff, and airlines cancelling thousands of flights.

The airport kept the daily limit in place from July until the end of October as it sought to hire and train tens of thousands of staff. – Guardian