Staff shortages have led Gatwick Airport to reduce the number of flights during the peak summer period.
The number of flights in August will be reduced to 825 from the current 850. In recent years there were over 900 flights per day.
It is understood that the skills shortages are affecting a wide range of roles such as baggage handlers, cleaning, ground handling, air traffic control and maintenance.
Gatwick’s decision comes after the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority wrote to airlines asking them to ensure their summer timetables were “deliverable”. The airport said it had taken the decision to reduce flights following a review of its operations, to help passengers “experience a more reliable and better standard of service”.
Even with reduced flights 400 new staff have been recruited to help passengers pass through security checks this summer, with additional new recruits to start in the coming weeks.
Stewart Wingate, the airport’s chief executive, said: “By taking decisive action now, we aim to help the ground handlers – and also our airlines – to better match their flying programmes with their available resources.”
Airlines were reviewing the details of Gatwick’s plan and as yet undecided on their response. EasyJet said it was aware of the capacity gap at Gatwick. It added: “We expect to be able to re-accommodate the majority of customers should their flight be affected by the cap.
“We recognise the need for Gatwick Airport to do this… so all airlines can provide reliable services for their customers.”
Business minister Paul Scully suggested one solution to the airport chaos could be for staff to work longer hours if they wanted to.
He told Sky News he was “not talking about going out forcing people to do anything”, but “it’s just that those people who can work longer – that want to work longer – can do”.
“We want to work really closely with the airports and the airlines to make sure that they are doing everything they can and see what more we can do.”
His comments echo those made by Wizz Air chief last week, which attracted plenty of criticism from pilots’ unions.
The aviation industry made thousands of employees redundant during the pandemic and many have yet to be replaced, despite a spike in demand for travel.
John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow has defended the industry against criticism of its failure to cope with the return of traveller demand after two years pandemic and the reality of Brexit.
He told Sky News: “We should not be surprised at the challenge faced by the aviation industry.
“For two years most politicians and the public were calling for borders to be closed and that has had a devastating effect.
“Across the sector, very skilled jobs have been lost and it does mean that as an industry we are having to recruit people back, train them up again to be able to serve passengers, and that just takes time.
He added: “It’s very easy to slam the brakes on the industry, lead to enormous job losses, but much harder to scale it up again.”
Holland-Kaye said that across Europe about 250,000 people were employed as ground handlers before the pandemic but today it was more like 120,000 employed, “so you can see the scale of recruitment that’s required.”