UK Aviation regulator to investigate air traffic chaos

The British aviation regulator is about to launch an investigation into the failure of the air traffic control system in the country at the end of a bank holiday weekend. Delays continued for a second consecutive day with approximately 300 flights being cancelled on Tuesday.

A source familiar with these discussions revealed that the Civil Aviation Authority was in discussion with the government regarding the scope of the investigation into the failure Monday. The National Air Traffic Services said the initial findings indicated a flight data problem.

Air traffic controllers restricted the number and arrival of aircraft at UK airports, resulting in more than a quarter being cancelled and many others delayed.

Mark Harper, UK Transport Secretary, said earlier on Tuesday that the CAA should “take an independent look” at the issue given its scale.

Harper said on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

After the failure of the system, air traffic controllers had to manually enter individual flight plans.

Downing Street and Harper refused to comment on reports in the media that the problem was caused by a French carrier filing a flight plan incorrectly.

Martin Rolfe said that the initial investigation had revealed the incident was “related to some of flight data we were given”.

The regulator’s system responded by “suspending automated processing” in order to make sure that “no wrong safety-related information can be presented to an Air Traffic Controller or have any impact on the rest of the Air Traffic System”.

Nats announced earlier that they had launched a thorough investigation into the incident. They will share the findings with the CAA, and the Government. The transport secretary will then have to decide if he wants to order a more thorough review by the CAA.

Harper stated that his top priority is to ensure passengers “get to where they need be as quickly and as easily as possible”. The government is ready to offer “further appropriate assistance” to airlines, if needed.

Nats announced that its systems had resumed “normal operation” on Tuesday, but airlines and airports still faced a backlog in passengers resulting in further cancellations. Cirium, an aviation analytics company, reported that, according to early estimates, about 5% of UK daily flights were cancelled. This affected 147 departures as well as 134 arrivals.

The rules do not allow passengers to seek compensation for the disruptions, as “extraordinary circumstances”, such as failures of the air traffic control systems are excluded. Airlines will be required to refund passengers or offer alternative flights.

British Airways stated that it still experienced “knock-on” effects, but short-haul customers could move their flights to a future date.

EasyJet reported that most of their flight schedule operated as planned on Tuesday. However, “some flights today morning were unfortunately not able to operate”. EasyJet said that it will operate five return flights from its most popular destinations in the next few days.

Michael O’Leary said that it was “inacceptable” for Nats to have allowed “its computer systems to be down and everyone’s flights cancelled”.

The head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents the world’s largest airlines, has questioned the role played by the regulator in this disaster. Willy Walsh, Iata’s director general said: “The failure of such an essential service is inacceptable and calls into question the CAA’s oversight. They are required by their licence to review Nats resilience plans.”

He said that the compensation system for passengers should be “rebalanced” to make it fair for everyone. He said that airlines would be responsible for significant amounts in care and support charges on top of disruptions to crews and flight schedules. “But Nats will pay nothing.”