United Kingdom: giant air traffic breakdown caused by bad flight plan

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There giant breakdown of British air traffic control which occurred on August 28 was caused by a flight plan submitted by a long haul airline which was flying over the United Kingdom, according to a report released yesterday by the NATS (British National Air Traffic Service).

The plan included two crossing points outside British airspace wearing the same id, causing a bug in the NATS computer system. This “extremely rare set of circumstances (…) led to a critical exception whereby the primary and backup system entered safety mode», Explained the NATS, without naming the company behind this flight plan.

We have processed 15 million flight plans through this system and we can be absolutely certain that we have never seen such a set of circumstances before», Underlined the director general of NATS, Martin Rolfe, quoted by the BBC. NATS assured in its report that modifications were made to the system to prevent this outage which had “one chance in 15 million” to occur.

Due to the giant breakdown, almost 2,000 flights departing and arriving of the United Kingdom were canceled over two days, several tens of thousands, even several hundred thousand passengers were impacted, and several days were needed to return to normal and return all passengers to their destination.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has estimated 100 million pounds the additional costs that airlines will have faced to support impacted passengers. For example, the disruptions are estimated to have cost Ryanair between £15m and £20m in refunds for hotels, food and other travel arrangements. The boss of the Irish low cost airline, Michael O’Leary, assured that “there would be no problem» for customers claiming fees, but demanded that NATS “accepts responsibility for his incompetence“.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “Airlines cannot be the insurer of last resort (…) We cannot find ourselves in a situation where airlines carry the burden every time we experience a disruption of this magnitude.»

John Walker Avatar