UK & World News

  • 9 December 2013, 14:01

UK Flights Chaos: Air Traffic Boss Says 'Sorry'

The head of the UK's National Air Traffic Service (Nats) says he would welcome an inquiry after a computer failure paralysed airports.

Thousands of passengers were left stranded after a problem with a telephone system, which began early on Saturday, took 14 hours to resolve.

Nats chief executive Richard Deakin said "an inquiry into the level of contingency and resilience in UK airspace would be welcome and beneficial for all".

He said that Nats had not seen a problem of that kind in 10 years of operation at the national centre in Swanwick, Hampshire.

During that time "over 20 million flights have been safely handled, with a service level among the best in the world".

On Saturday, he said: "We delivered over 90% of an extremely busy schedule of flights during the day and recovered to normal operations in 14 hours.

"We believe this is an appropriate level of contingency that balances both a good level of service to our customers with an affordable level of cost for them to bear. As a regulated business, we also believe it is in line with our regulatory settlement.

"However, it was clear that the reduction in our service had a significant impact on our customers and the flying public.

"This is something we deeply regret and are determined to do all we can to avoid it happening again."

Nats has launched its own major incident inquiry and its board has also instigated an investigation led by independent non-executive board member and chairman of the Airline Group, Peter Read.

Mr Deakin said: "Some of the comments over the weekend show that some parties believe our contingency was insufficient and instead we should be able to continue at 100% capacity in any eventuality."

He said it would be to everyone's benefit for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to conduct an open and transparent review to confirm whether the level of contingency meets reasonable operational expectations at reasonable cost; whether further measures are needed and, if so, how this should be paid for.

The issue arose when Nats' night-time operating system, which combines sectors of airspace for when it is less busy, did not properly switch over to the daytime system, causing a communication problem with the centre's internal telephones.

Heathrow was the worst affected airport, with 228 cancellations on Saturday, representing 15% of its usual daily total of 1,300 flights.

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