Ryanair demands air traffic control boss resigns and slams flight cap 'shambles' at Gatwick Airport

Credit: PA

Ryanair said the air traffic control provider was a "shambles" under its current boss, as the Dublin-based airline called on his resignation.
Ryanair said the air traffic control provider was a "shambles" under its current boss, as the Dublin-based airline called on his resignation. Credit: PA

Ryanair has demanded the resignation of the boss of the UK's largest air traffic control provider, after flight caps were imposed at Gatwick Airport.

The Dublin-based airline said National Air Traffic Services (Nats) is a "shambles" under chief executive Martin Rolfe and he should be replaced with "someone competent".

Flight caps were imposed at Gatwick Airport on Monday due to ATC staff shortages, with dozens of daily flights cancelled.

Ryanair, which has a relatively small operation at the West Sussex airport, said it will not scrap flights due to the measure.

It comes after Nats suffered a technical glitch causing major disruption across UK airports on 28 August - Bank Holiday Monday.

Ryanair said in a statement: “Gatwick Airport is imposing a daily cap of 800 flights until Monday October 2 and asking airlines to cancel flights, which Ryanair will not be doing.”

It went on: “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.

“Nats has been a shambles for years, causing unnecessary disruptions at UK airports including Bristol, Edinburgh and Manchester, and now Gatwick Airport for the past four weeks, including the complete system meltdown on Monday August 28 which brought UK aviation to its knees – a mess that has still not been explained.

“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 (Civil Aviation Authority) to immediately intervene and protect passengers from this ongoing UK ATC shambles.”

Ryanair said it pays Nats almost 100 million euros (£87 million) per year for an ATC service that is “repeatedly short-staffed”.

However, a spokesperson for Nats responded that the flight caps were due to staff sickness levels, including from Covid.

“We have worked very closely with Gatwick airport throughout," the spokesperson said.

“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.

“We have trained as many air traffic controllers as possible this year in the Gatwick tower and have safely managed over 180,000 flights so far.

“However, with 30% 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.

Nats previously said it is “working in line” with a staffing plan agreed with Gatwick bosses when it took over the provision of ATC services at the airport in October 2022, which includes training further controllers.

Earlier this month, easyJet's chief executive said Nats had “let down customers all summer” with delays and cancellations.

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