Air Traffic Services ‘very sorry’ staff off sick ‘will impact’ flights from Gatwick Airport - promising ‘resilience’ by summer 2024

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The company confirmed it is working to a plan agreed with the London airport to “deliver further resilience ahead of summer 2024”

Britain’s National Air Traffic Services (Nats) has said it is “very sorry” that staff being off ill “will have an almost immediate impact” on flights from a major UK airport.

The company said it has been “very clear that we inherited a staff shortage when we took over the contract last autumn” and it is “working to return the team to full strength”.

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Due to short notice staff sickness at the tower at Gatwick Airport today (Monday 25 September), Nats has had to reduce the rate of arrivals and departures from the airport.

Several flights have been delayed with passengers taking to social media to share their annoyance.

Matt Catlin slammed Gatwick Airport on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, calling it a “f*****g embarrassment” over its delays to a number of flights.

Nats ‘very sorry’ staff off sick ‘will impact’ flights from major UK airport. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images) Nats ‘very sorry’ staff off sick ‘will impact’ flights from major UK airport. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)
Nats ‘very sorry’ staff off sick ‘will impact’ flights from major UK airport. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

He said the airport is “using the excuse of staff shortages so they can get out of paying compensation”.

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Nats has apologised for the disruption caused to passengers and airlines, adding that when the company was appointed by Gatwick to improve its ATC performance and resilience “all parties were clear it would not be a short-term fix”.

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A spokesperson from Nats told NationalWorld: “We cannot simply move controllers from other locations - they need to be trained specifically for the Gatwick airport operation and this takes time - up to two years to be certified to safely control aircraft at the world’s busiest single runway airport.”

The company said that despite the recent disruption “resilience has improved significantly this year since NATS took over the air traffic control contract at the airport.”

It said: “We have managed over 180,000 flights, 23% up on last year and our service has been fully available over 99% of the time, 24 hours per day, every day.”

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The company confirmed that it 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”.

Nats is facing anger from passengers whose flights have been delayed or cancelled due to staff illnesses, while it is also facing pressure from airlines over its meltdown during the August bank holiday.

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The boss of Finnair has joined airlines in demanding that Nats reimburse carriers over its technical fault on 28 August which led to hundreds of flights being cancelled.

Chief executive Topi Manner said it would be “natural” for Nats to compensate carriers for the cost of disruption as it is “pretty clear what the source of the failure was”.

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The combined cost to airlines in providing refunds, re-bookings, hotel rooms and refreshments to affected passengers has been estimated at around £100 million by industry body the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

In Nats’ preliminary report, it stated that it is not within the company’s “remit to address any wider questions arising from the incident such as cost reimbursement and compensation for the associated disruption.”

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