Ryanair boss calls for air traffic control chief to resign amid Gatwick flight disruption

Ryanair says Gatwick air traffic control is in ‘shambles.’   (PA Wire)
Ryanair says Gatwick air traffic control is in ‘shambles.’ (PA Wire)

Ryanair has demanded the boss of the UK’s largest air traffic control provider to “step down” after flight caps were imposed at Gatwick Airport.

The Dublin-based airline called for National Air Traffic Services (Nats) chief executive Martin Rolfe to be replaced with “someone competent” as dozens of daily flights have been cancelled at the West Sussex airport this week due to ATC staff shortages.

Gatwick airport will be limited to 800 flights a day which will remain in place until October 2. Ryanair said it wont cancel any flights, despite the cap on arrivals and departures .

It is the most basic requirement to hire and train adequate staff numbers


The cap on flights comes after Nats suffered a technical glitch causing major disruption across UK airports on August 28.

Ryanair said in a statement that it pays Nats almost £79 million annually for air traffic control services and is “repeatedly short-staffed”.

“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.”

The staff shortage has caused at least fifty flights to and from Gatwick to be cancelled or diverted, leaving thousands of passangers stranded.

Ryanair said: “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 went on: “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.”

About 30% of staff at Nats that are contractually obliged to provide air control services are said to be sick or unable to perform their full duties.

A spokesman for 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.”

Nats said they are training as many air traffic controllers as possible but added: “Even an experienced air traffic controller takes at least nine months to qualify at Gatwick, and very few are able to do so, as Gatwick is such a busy and complex air traffic environment.”

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.