Flights risk ‘diversion’ amid UK air traffic system failure, Simon Calder says
The UK air traffic chief has revealed the chaos that unfolded inside the control room following the discovery of a “significantly different” fault, which is still causing disruption to flights.
In an exclusive interview with The Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder, Martin Rolfe explained how Nats engineers raced against time to bring the air traffic control system back online after “dodgy” flight data caused a serious outage.
Mr Rolfe said the fault was first identified at 8:30am, three hours before the automatic system went offline.
“We were working on a timeline of restoring the system before 12:30pm,” he added.
What followed after was back-and-forth communication with airlines, the Department for Transport, the Civil Aviation Authority – and the realisation that “there was potential for a significant problem”.
This update comes as British Airways cancelled a further 34 domestic and European flights to and from London Heathrow as the airline recovers from Monday’s air-traffic control shutdown.
British Airways told passengers the Nats meltdown on bank holiday Monday “created significant and unavoidable delays and cancellations“ to their flight schedule.
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AMA: Simon Calder answers all your travel questions amid third day of flight disruptions
How likely is it that your travel plans will be impacted by the chaos caused by the air-traffic control systems outage on Monday?
The Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder is ready to answer all your questions on this on Wednesday morning (30 August).
Maanya Sachdeva30 August 2023 08:59
Excl: Air traffic boss reveals how flight chaos unfolded inside control room
The UK’s air-traffic control system failed in response to a faulty flight plan, the boss of Nats has told The Independent.
Martin Rolfe, chief executive of the air-traffic control service, revealed for the first time that the fault was initially identified at 8.30am on Monday – almost three hours before the automatic system went offline, leaving controllers to handle aircraft manually.
Read how engineers raced against time to bring the control system back online – and when they knew they were faced with a “significant problem”:
Maanya Sachdeva30 August 2023 08:45
British Airways cancellations continue at Heathrow
British Airways has cancelled a further 34 domestic and European flights to and from London Heathrow as the airline recovers from Monday’s air-traffic control shutdown.
The Independent has identified 18 domestic departures, including three in each direction linking Heathrow with Aberdeen and Edinburgh, and two to and from Glasgow.
To and from Continental Europe, single departures serving Berlin, Budapest, Dublin, Frankfurt, Geneva, Munich, Prague and Rome.
A flight to Sofia has been delayed for 23 hours.
British Airways is telling passengers: “Like all airlines using UK airspace, our flights have been severely disrupted as a result of a major issue experienced by Nats Air Traffic Control on Monday 28 August. While Nats has now resolved the issue, it has created significant and unavoidable delays and cancellations.”
Passengers booked on short-haul flights on Wednesday can move their flights free of charge to a later date, subject to availability.
Maanya Sachdeva30 August 2023 08:23
Ask Me Anything: Put your questions to Simon Calder as flight cancellations cause mayhem across Europe
How likely is it that your travel plans will be impacted by the travel chaos, that all began with a four-hour failure of the UK’s main air-traffic control system on Monday?
Our travel correspondent Simon Calder will be live on The Independent at 9am on Wednesday 30 August to answer as many questions about cancelled flights, delays, and reimbursements as he can in one hour.
Maanya Sachdeva30 August 2023 07:21
‘Frustrated’ Scottish student stranded at airport overnight amid travel chaos
A “frustrated and tired” Scottish drama student was left stranded in Amsterdam Airport overnight when an air traffic control glitch saw his flight cancelled, forcing him to sleep there.
Matthew Creed, a 26-year-old drama student from Harthill, became stuck at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport after his flight with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to Edinburgh was cancelled.
Tens of thousands more airline passengers suffered flight cancellations on Tuesday due to the knock-on impact of an ATC fault.
Analysis of flight data websites by the PA news agency shows at least 281 flights – including departures and arrivals – were cancelled on Tuesday at the UK’s six busiest airports.
Namita Singh30 August 2023 07:00
Analysis: What is causing the air traffic control chaos?
The last week of August is a time of high demand for air travel, especially from returning holidaymakers. Because of the UK’s limited airport infrastructure, especially in southeast England, there is precious little slack in the system: Heathrow and Gatwick are, respectively, the busiest two-runway and single-runway airports in the world.
So the UK’s normally well-regarded air traffic control (ATC) system needed to be working perfectly on bank holiday Monday.
Just before noon on Monday, the company told me: “We are currently experiencing a technical issue and have applied traffic flow restrictions to maintain safety. Engineers are working to find and fix the fault.”
In this analysis, Calder poses some tough questions as he argues that the authorities have some explaining to do.
Namita Singh30 August 2023 06:30
ICYMI: Everything you need to know about air-traffic control failure on Tuesday
Aircraft and flight crew are out of position after the severe disruption on bank holiday Monday.
More than 1,200 flights to, from and within the UK were grounded by the failure at Nats, the national air-traffic provider. Around 200,000 people are starting the day where they did not wish to be – with many sleeping overnight at airports.
Read this report from our travel correspondent Simon Calder:
Namita Singh30 August 2023 06:00
More travel chaos after 300,000 hit by cancellations – and French error blamed for air traffic mayhem
Around 300,000 airline passengers have now been hit by flight cancellations since the hours-long failure of the Nats system on bank holiday Monday. The knock-on effect is set to last for several more days, as under-pressure airlines battle the backlog in a week where millions are already returning to the UK from their summer holidays.
Several sources say the issue may have been caused when a French airline filed a dodgy flight plan that made no digital sense.
Our travel correspondent Simon Calder and Andy Gregory have more:
Namita Singh30 August 2023 05:30
‘No indication’ of cyber attack leading to air traffic control fault
Nats chief executive Martin Rolfe said in a statement yesterday that there are “no indications” the glitch was caused by a cyber-attack.
Explaining the air traffic control (ATC) fault, Mr Rolfe said: “Very occasionally technical issues occur that are complex and take longer to resolve.
“In the event of such an issue, our systems are designed to isolate the problem and prioritise continued safe air traffic control.
“This is what happened yesterday.
“At no point was UK airspace closed but the number of flights was significantly reduced.
“Initial investigations into the problem show it relates to some of the flight data we received.
“Our systems, both primary and the back-ups, responded by suspending automatic processing to ensure that no incorrect safety-related information could be presented to an air traffic controller or impact the rest of the air traffic system.
“There are no indications that this was a cyber-attack.”
Mr Rolfe added that Nats is working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority to provide a preliminary report to the Transport Secretary on Monday – the conclusions of which will be made public.
Namita Singh30 August 2023 05:00
Repatriation flights to set off for Gatwick
The first easyJet repatriation flights returning passengers to the UK following an air traffic control (ATC) fault will set off for London Gatwick as disruption continues.
The failure, which led to a spate of cancellations and delays, was caused by flight data received by National Air Traffic Services (Nats) – with both primary and back-up systems responding by suspending automatic processing.
EasyJet announced it will run five repatriation flights to London Gatwick, with the first two set to take off today.
The airline said: “During this traditionally very busy week for travel, options for returning to the UK are more limited on some routes and so easyJet will be operating five repatriation flights to London Gatwick over the coming days from Palma and Faro on August 30, and Tenerife and Enfidha on August 31 and from Rhodes on September 1.
“We are also operating larger aircraft on key routes including Faro, Ibiza, Dalaman and Tenerife to provide some additional 700 seats this week.”
Namita Singh30 August 2023 04:30