As more than 600,000 passengers are hit by flight chaos, easyJet CEO Johan Lundgren says: ‘Passengers have had enough, and so have we’

Holidays are precious to us all. Following the pandemic, and amid a painful cost of living squeeze, they offer us welcome relaxation and time with loved ones.

That is why it is completely unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of passengers saw flights cancelled or delayed this summer because of air traffic control failures.

A shortage of controllers at Gatwick Airport has plagued the travel industry and caused misery to many of our passengers.

These problems have beset National Air Traffic Services (Nats) since May. This cannot go on. We need reform of how Nats is regulated to ensure that all its services are robust and resilient so that UK travellers can be confident their flights will take off.

Essentially, the failure to have enough air traffic controllers means Gatwick’s full schedule of flights cannot operate.

Johan Lundgren: ‘Our customers are rightly angry – and I share their immense frustration.’

This chronic problem has been disrupting flights, on average, every three days. Indeed, there have now been 40 days of delays and cancellations since May.

Around 27 aircraft per hour normally land at Gatwick through the morning at this time of year. But these staff shortages means the arrival rate has been at times shrunk to just 12 per hour. That’s an estimated 2,500 passengers affected per hour.

As the largest carrier at Gatwick, EasyJet has been disproportionately affected.

Our customers are rightly angry – and I share their immense frustration.

Last week, Gatwick ordered the cancellation of yet more flights. They declared that Covid sickness is the cause, when clearly it is structural understaffing. Like other airlines whose passengers have been caught up in this, we have had enough.

And yet the mechanisms to hold air traffic control to account are simply not present or working.

I want to be absolutely clear: I recognise that UK controllers are among the best in the world. My issue is not with them and safety is not in question – it’s the structure and resourcing plans that are letting us, and them, badly down. 

I also want to acknowledge it’s not just the UK that has suffered this year. In spring we saw delays and cancellations when French controllers took strike action in solidarity against pension reforms, which didn’t even impact them because they retire at 58.

‘A shortage of controllers at Gatwick Airport has plagued the travel industry and caused misery to many of our passengers,’ says chief exec Johan Lundgren

Travellers have complained about the long queues throughout this year

Aviation is critical to the country. Gatwick and Nats need to urgently put a resourcing plan in place to restore resilience to the operation there.

We want to see a wide-ranging review into how Nats is structured, run and regulated so the systems and processes can be modernised.

And it is crucial this is done now, to avoid the same issues next summer. After months of delays and cancellations, the UK public deserves better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *