WORLD-Flights grounded in UK
Computer failure cause major delays
LONDON –– Passengers have been facing widespread flight disruption after a computer failure at Britain’s air traffic control centre.
NATS said it was in the process of returning to normal operations after a “technical problem” at its Swanwick control centre caused delays and grounded some flights.
Problems were reported around Britain.
The government said the scale of the disruption was “unacceptable” and said it had asked for a “full explanation” of what had gone wrong.
This included delays at Heathrow and Gatwick, where departing flights were grounded for a time. Other British airports reported knock-on effects.
It comes a year after a telephone glitch at the Hampshire control room caused huge disruption –– one of a number of technical hitches to hit the part-privatized Nation Air Traffic Services (NATS) since the centre opened in 2002.
NATS’ managing director apologized for the disruption and said it was still investigating the cause.
Martin Rolfe ruled out a power outage, confirming there was a failure in the flight element of the system which left controllers with reduced data available to them.
Rolfe also said a computer hack had been ruled out.
The Association of British Travel Agents encouraged passengers expecting to take a flight to contact their airline.
British Airways said if its customers did not want to travel from Heathrow, Gatwick or London City this evening they could rebook or get a full refund.
Vicky Lane, a passenger on a grounded London to Dublin plane at Gatwick said: “We’ve been stuck on a Ryanair flight . . . for over an hour.
“The doors are open and we’re really cold. I’m not sure when we will be leaving.”
Another passenger, on a flight to Paris, said his plane had “circled around the Lake District for half an hour before turning back to Edinburgh”.
Ed Bott told the BBC he was: “Currently sitting on the tarmac. None the wiser. Waiting for news as to what’s happening.”
Swanwick controls the 200,000 square miles of airspace above England and Wales, cost £623 million to build, and employs about 1,300 controllers.
But the facility, which handles 5,000 flights every 24 hours, has had a troubled history.
It opened in 2002, six years after its planned commissioning date –– a delay which NATS said was due to problems with the software used to power its systems.
Almost a year after it opened, a senior air traffic controller raised concerns with the BBC about health and safety standards and complications with radio communications –– which he said cut out erratically.
Technical problems and computer faults hit flights in 2008 and again last summer. And, in December, 2013, problems with the internal telephone system then caused further delays.