CAA seeks end to Gatwick flight delays ahead of next summer

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is holding regular meetings with Gatwick and air traffic control provider Nats to eliminate delays at the airport before next summer.

Rob Bishton, CAA chief executive, told the Transport Select Committee of MPs recently: “We’re convening work with Gatwick and Nats’ commercial branch looking at resilience for 2024, and at air traffic control [ATC] provisions in the UK more broadly.

“That will continue until March to ensure resilience from Easter.”

MoreSpecial Report: Nats chief defends ATC body against angry airlines

He said: “There is a history to why [Gatwick ATC] has ended up where it is. It’s not easy to resolve in the short term.”

A shortage of controllers at Gatwick led to delays through the summer and to a cap on capacity last month.

Both Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary and easyJet chief commercial officer Sophie Dekkers complained to MPs about the airport, with O’Leary accusing Nats of “routinely short-staffing ATC”.

He noted: “At the Aviation Council [of industry leaders and ministers] we received assurance Nats would be fully staffed for the summer. The assurances were worthless.”

Dekkers told the committee: “We’ve had to remove capacity at Gatwick because the system can’t cope. There aren’t any other ATC bodies in Europe asking us to reduce capacity.

“There is a shortage of ATC staff at Gatwick. The system is outdated. Our pilots are trained on simulators, [but] air traffic controllers are trained in the tower.

“A qualified controller from overseas has to go all through the training again and airlines are taking the pain for it.”

But Nats chief executive Martin Rolfe insisted: “We’re appropriately staffed with perhaps the exception at Gatwick [where] we took over the contract last year.

“We had the contract years ago with much higher staffing levels [and] the airport decided to bring in another provider at lower staffing.”

He added: “We’re unique in the world in that we can’t take overseas controllers. We can’t even use military air traffic controllers without retraining.

“There is a strong requirement in the regulations for on-the-job training [and] it takes about three years. Nine months is the shortest you could go from being a controller somewhere else [in the UK] to being a controller at Gatwick.”

Bishton described ATC training as “a global issue”, saying: “There are shortages, and the training is involved. Unlike with pilots, there is no global approach to ATC licensing.”

MoreSpecial Report: Nats chief defends ATC body against angry airlines

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