190126 border force
Gatwick shows how it should be done by hiring more staff and removing daily passenger handled limits. Image Credit: AFP

London: The London Gatwick airport said it will end capacity caps this month, bringing some relief to travellers as schedule reductions at the UK capital’s larger Heathrow hub continue through the winter season.

Gatwick, controlled by French builder Vinci SA, hired 400 security staff to help resolve a labour crunch while delegating other workers to address shortages at airport firms including airline baggage handlers. “With additional resources across the Gatwick operation in place no further moderation of flying programs is necessary,” the airport said in a statement while upgrading its full-year passenger estimate to 32.8 million. The end of curbs provides a boost for low-cost giant EasyJet, the hub’s biggest airline.

The normalisation of operations at Gatwick comes after Heathrow extended limits on departing passengers through October, the end of the summer season, citing a prolonged hiring crisis at ground-handling firms. On Monday, British Airways, Heathrow’s No. 1 carrier, removed 10,000 flights there this winter to cope with the staffing situation and insufficient demand on some flights to destinations with multiple frequencies.

First to cap

Gatwick was one of the first airports to limit capacity in spring as travel rebounded from the pandemic, with hours-long queues for security and numerous last-minute cancellations. In June, the airport announced caps on departing flights during the peak summer travel season that were about 20 per cent below usual levels to ensure “a more reliable and better standard of service”.

While airlines across Europe have struggled for staff, British Airways has been among the hardest hit after dismissing 10,000 workers at the peak of lockdowns. The unit of IAG was forced to offer some employees an effective 13 per cent raise to head off a threatened strike.

Raises passenger numbers

Britain’s second biggest airport said it expects 32.8 million passengers in 2022 but warned inflationary pressures on costs and demand during the winter season may impact the forecast. “We still have some considerable way to go, but strong demand has fast-tracked Gatwick’s recovery from the pandemic,” said CEO Stewart Wingate.

Gatwick said the “unprecedented growth” in traffic led to short-term operational issues in June, and added its action to limit the airport’s capacity in the school holiday period of July and August ensured reliable flight timetables over the summer months. Gatwick said passenger demand was at 74.3 per cent of pre-pandemic levels for the second quarter after the removal of all UK travel restrictions.

The group said it returned to profitability in the first-half as it reported a core profit 148.3 million pounds for the six months ended June 30, compared with a loss of 50.2 million pounds last year.