Air traffic control delays in Europe are set to cause further chaos at UK airports over the summer as rail passengers face the prospect of increasing disruption.
The European Air Traffic Agency has warned that the number of flights will exceed the capacity of control centers to handle them in large parts of the continent this summer, and urged some countries to review their operations to avoid sudden disruptions.
The warning comes after British holidaymakers faced more than a week of flight cancellations and delays as the aviation industry, hit by a shortage of staff, struggled to cope with a strong increase in demand.
Rail passengers are also braced for disruption this summer, with rail union RMT due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the call for a national strike after their members from more than a dozen train operators and the infrastructure manager Network Rail backed industrial action at a poll last month.
There was rail disruption on Sunday after Eurostar urged passengers not to travel after problems with overhead power lines in France led to a disruption of its services. Meanwhile, London Underground urged commuters to avoid the capital’s tube system on Monday due to an RMT strike.
But it was air passengers who faced most of the problems over the weekend, including more than 150 flight cancellations at London’s Gatwick airport.
The airport said 89 flights were canceled on Saturday and another 82 on Sunday, in part due to air traffic control restrictions after bad weather in parts of Europe compounded staffing issues at the airport. industry scale.
EasyJet, Gatwick’s biggest operator, canceled 80 flights on Sunday, blaming “the ongoing difficult operating environment”.
Heathrow Airport, the UK’s busiest, has asked airlines to reduce passenger numbers at certain times of the day during the summer to reduce queues at terminals during the ‘registration. The airport said it had engaged with airlines “well in advance” to allow them to reschedule or cancel some flights to “smooth out spikes” during check-in.
Meanwhile, Europe’s air traffic control agency Eurocontrol warned in an update covering the six weeks in mid-July that some of the continent’s control centers would struggle to handle all flights scheduled over that period. .
“Some air navigation service providers need to revise their plans because the capacity provided would not be sufficient to meet traffic demand,” the agency said.
He pointed to air traffic control centres, including Reims in eastern France, Munich and Athens, as facing particularly acute problems, but added that much of Europe, including the UK, was operating close to capacity with little flexibility in the event of unexpected problems.
“The coming six-week period is likely to be extremely difficult for most airports, with very high passenger demand putting strains [on] some of these airport resources,” the document warns.
But in a statement, the agency said air traffic delays averaged just three minutes per flight, less than in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic hit. He added that he was working with national traffic managers to minimize delays.
The warning came as UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps again blamed the aviation industry for the widespread chaos. He said some airlines cut too many staff during the pandemic.
“Decisions whether to fire or not in the end were decisions of the airlines. In the end, looking back, they clearly cut too far on that,” Shapps told the BBC.
Senior airline executives have argued ministers ignored calls for sector-specific job support to keep skilled workers in the industry after the furlough scheme ended last year.
Shapps rejected industry calls to ease Brexit-related immigration rules so airlines can transfer staff from their EU-based operations.