UK air traffic collapse ‘one in 15 million’

Passengers wait for news of canceled or delayed flights at London’s Stansted Airport as they discuss the situation Monday, in Stansted, Britain August 28, 2023. REUTERS/Raphael Satter/File photo Acquires licensing rights

LONDON, Sept 6 (Reuters) – The collapse of air traffic in Britain was caused by a “one in 15 million” event, the head of air traffic control firm NATS says, with initial findings showing how a single flight plan with two identical flags caused it. Chaos.

Thousands of passengers were stranded abroad for days after 1,500 flights were canceled on Aug. 28, during one of the busiest travel periods of the summer.

“This was a one in 15 million opportunity. We’ve processed 15 million flight plans with this system up to this point and we’ve never seen this before,” Martin Rolfe, chief executive of NATS, told the BBC, as airlines ramped up claims for damages. .

An initial NATS report said the flight plan met European standards but included two identical but separate points or navigational markers outside UK airspace, forcing the system – and its backups – to enter a ‘fail-safe’ mode.

The system faced the dilemma of not being able to reject a flight plan without knowing the impact it would have, or to approve it, thus risking providing safety misinformation.

“So it stopped working, to avoid any chance of incorrect data being passed to the console,” the report said.

Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said in a blog post that NATS management had “some serious explaining to do.” He demanded compensation to airlines and control system reform financed from NATS budgets.

Michael O’Leary, CEO of budget giant Ryanair, said in a video posted to X, previously Twitter, that the report was “full of rubbish” and that “heads should roll” at NATS.

Rolfe said a few days ago that the problem will not be repeated.

CAA joint interim chief executive Rob Bechton said the agency would review the circumstances surrounding the failure and assess whether further action was needed.

The International Air Transport Association said the incident could cost airlines up to 100 million pounds ($126 million) as canceled passengers will be able to claim reimbursement for hotels they stayed in or new tickets they bought.

Ryanair’s rival EasyJet said the NATS report left some questions unanswered and called for an extensive examination of its resources and IT systems to “ensure they are fit for purpose today and in the future”.

($1 = 0.7961 pounds)

(Reporting by Mufiga M, Farouk Suleiman, Sarah Young and Tim Hever; Reporting by Mohamed for The Arabic Bulletin) Editing by William James and John Stonestreet

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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(tags for translation)AIR

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