London : Gatwick Airport, London's second-busiest, has canceled several flights because of staff shortages in air traffic control blamed on the Covid-19 outbreak.
More than 40 flights were canceled over the weekend. The airport has also moved to limit the number of planes coming and going from its runway for the rest of the week, the airport's CEO Stewart Wingate said in a statement. The airport said a daily 800-flight limit, including both departures and arrivals, has been imposed until Sunday. The daily cap will prevent last-minute cancellations and delays for passengers while National Air Traffic Services (NATS) gets back to normal, the airport said.
The largest number of cancellations will be on Friday, September 29, with 33 departures affected. 30pc of staff in the division within air traffic control are off sick for a variety of reasons, including COVID-19, the airport said in a statement.
NATS apologized to passengers but said that a variety of medical reasons meant it couldn't manage the normal flows in and out of the airport.
In a statement, NATS said, ''We have worked very closely with Gatwick airport throughout. Given the levels of sickness we have experienced over the last few weeks we believe it is the responsible thing to do to limit the number of flights this week in order to reduce the risk of daily disruption to passengers using the airport.
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With 30 percent of tower staff unavailable for a variety of medical reasons including Covid, we cannot manage the number of flights that were originally planned for this week.''
Meanwhile, Stewart Wingate, CEO of London Gatwick, said, “This has been a difficult decision but the action we have taken today means our airlines can fly reliable flight programs, which gives passengers more certainty that they will not face last-minute cancellations. We are working closely with NATS to build resilience in the control tower, and this decision means we can prevent as many disruptions as possible.
''London Gatwick would like to apologise to any passengers who have been impacted by these restrictions.''
EasyJet, the airport's most used airline, is expected to be the most affected, media reported.
Johan Lundgren, the chief executive of easyJet, said, ''While it is regrettable that a temporary limit on capacity at Gatwick airport is required, we believe that it is the right action by the airport so on-the-day cancellations and delays can be avoided.
''Gatwick airport and Nats now need to work on a longer-term plan so the resilience of [air traffic control] at Gatwick is improved and fit for purpose. Our call for a more wide-ranging review of Nats remains so the broader issues can be examined so it can deliver robust services to passengers now and in the future.''