Gatwick is suffering more flight delays due to air traffic control (ATC) limits than any other major European airport, according to an airline veteran.
Willie Walsh, director-general of global airline body the International Air Transport Association (Iata), said figures from Eurocontrol, which manages European airspace, show the West Sussex airport is being hit by “severe impacts”.
EasyJet cancelled 1,700 summer flights earlier this week – mostly from Gatwick – in response to what it called “unprecedented” ATC restrictions.
Strikes, staff shortages and airspace closures related to the war in Ukraine means ATC providers are limiting flight numbers across Europe.
Mr Walsh described the “ATC environment” experienced by airlines as “challenging”.
He said airlines and airports “worked hard” to ensure they had sufficient resources to get travellers where they needed to be on time but the “lack of ATC resources” was preventing that from happening.
He went on: “While some areas of ATC performance have improved over 2022, we remain unacceptably behind 2019 levels.
“The most severe impacts are being seen at Europe’s most congested airports, especially London Gatwick where the performance is also affected by local ATC resource issues.
“Gatwick is now the worst-performing airport among the 31 major airports reported by Eurocontrol and sits at number 106 out of the 110 airports covered by the entire data set.
“It is disheartening that the politicians who were quick to criticise airlines last year, have remained silent about the disruption caused by government-controlled or regulated ATC providers.”
Mr Walsh urged politicians to be “held accountable” for the economic and environmental costs of poor ATC performance, so they “have an incentive to make better decisions”.
He also called for essential ATC services to be maintained during industrial action “while respecting workers’ rights”.
Strikes by ATC operators in France have repeatedly caused airspace closures.
A spokesman for Gatwick, which is the UK’s second-busiest airport, said: “Flights at London Gatwick are increasingly being regulated at peak times due to the knock-on effects of air traffic control restrictions across numerous parts of Europe.
“These restrictions are beyond the control of the airport and have been put in place to manage and smooth out the flow of aircraft arriving from, and departing to, disrupted airspace across Europe.
“Multiple factors are causing airspace restrictions across Europe, including industrial action, staff shortages, the war in Ukraine and poor weather.
“Gatwick has more flights to Europe than any other UK airport and can be impacted disproportionately by disruption on the continent.
“We are working closely with our airline partners to minimise disruption and apologise to any passengers who may be inconvenienced.”
The provision of ATC services at the airport was taken over by Nats in October last year.
It has been approached for a comment.