Ryanair is standing firm against Gatwick Airport’s plea to reduce flight operations amidst a critical shortage of air traffic controllers attributed to Covid-19 cases and medical leave. The airport, in conjunction with UK’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS), issued an official statement on September 25th, revealing that nearly one-third of the airport’s air traffic controllers are on medical leave, with several cases of Covid-19 further exacerbating the staffing crisis and only 70% of staff currently running operations.
The dispute between Ryanair and Gatwick Airport centers around the airport’s call for flight reductions in light of the ongoing personnel challenges. Gatwick Airport has taken measures to mitigate disruptions by implementing a daily flight cap, allowing only 800 movements per day until October 2nd. Passengers are advised to check with their respective airlines for the latest updates and adjust their travel plans.
The Dublin-based airline is now urging the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and NATS to address the staffing shortages, insisting that it will not comply with Gatwick Airport’s request, citing the shortages as “self-inflicted” by NATS.
Ryanair’s has taken a tough stance on the matter, calling for the resignation of NATS’ chief executive in the wake of the flight disruptions: “It is clear that NATS CEO Martin Rolfe has taken no action to resolve these ATC staff shortages and should now do the right thing and step down as NATS’ CEO so that someone competent can do the job. We call on the CAA to immediately intervene and protect passengers from this ongoing UK ATC shambles”.
“It is unacceptable that airlines have been asked to cancel flights to/from Gatwick Airport for the next six days as a result of NATS’s failure to adequately staff UK ATC. It is the most basic requirement to hire and train adequate staff numbers including standby coverage”, Ryanair said in a statement, adding how it pays NATS nearly €100 million annually for air traffic control service that is “repeatedly short-staffed”.
In response, an airport spokesperson played down the impact of Ryanair’s refusal to cooperate, which currently operates flights to just four destinations from Gatwick: Cork, Dublin, Shannon, and Alicante, stating: “Ryanair have a very small operation so unlikely they would be impacted.”