London Gatwick Airport (LGW) has extended its current flight cap until Oct. 15.
The flight cap was introduced Sept. 25 following an unforeseen amount of sickness-related staff shortages last month. It was initially scheduled to end Oct. 1.
Gatwick reported at the time that 30% of the airport’s air traffic control staff was put out of action “for a variety of medical reasons including covid,” resulting in more than 150 canceled flights. According to Gatwick the extension period will likely affect a further 150 flights.
As a “precautionary measure,” the airport has now announced that it will continue its current cap of 800 flights per day until Oct. 15. The latest extension means that once the cap is lifted, it will have been in place for three weeks.
A London Gatwick spokesperson said:
Following further discussions with NATS and the airlines, the airport has decided to extend the temporary limit on daily flight movements as a precautionary measure through to 15 October 2023. The limit will be kept under review while we continue to work with NATS on their staffing challenges. The limit has been extended for a further two weeks to prevent delays and last-minute cancellations for passengers. As the overall flight schedule has reduced now the summer season is coming to an end, on many days there will be no impact on our operation. Passengers are advised to check the status of their flights with their airlines. We would like to apologise for the continued disruption and to the passengers who have been impacted by the restrictions.
Gatwick says that the disruption to scheduled flights will be minimal this time around. However, the first round of flight caps last week saw around 164 flight cancellations, with tens of thousands of passengers caught up in knock-on delays or grounded flights. This followed the cancellation of more than 40 flights before the daily flight cap was introduced Sept. 25.
Unsurprisingly, EasyJet, Gatwick’s largest operator, has been the most severely affected airline; British Airways and Ryanair have also been affected.
The extended flight cap and staff illnesses of the past weeks are only the most recent instances of flights being thrown into disarray at Gatwick. The airport faced a major disruption in August following a technical problem at NATS, a provider of air traffic control services.
Commenting on the flight caps, a NATS spokesperson said: “Operational resilience will improve as we move out of the summer schedule, which is particularly busy at Gatwick and we therefore believe Gatwick Airport Ltd has made a responsible decision to extend the limit on flights. We continue to train additional air traffic controllers and expect another group to qualify to work in the tower over coming months.”
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While the restrictions may be necessary to avoid last-minute disruptions, they have prompted discussions about the need for a broader review of NATS, alongside stronger enforcement powers for the Civil Aviation Authority to protect passengers from future incidents.
Last week, Gatwick was forced to limit departing and arriving flights by imposing a flight cap. This flight cap has now been extended until Oct. 15.
If you’re due to travel from Gatwick this week, you should check your flight status with your airline before heading to the airport.
Should your flight be canceled, the airline you are flying on should book you on the next alternative flight available, regardless of carrier. When appropriate, the airline should also provide overnight accommodation and food vouchers.
Check out this guide for more information on what to do if your flight is canceled.