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Monday, February 26, 2024

Air traffic meltdown caused by “one in 15 million” event

Air traffic control officials have unveiled the root cause of the extensive disruption that left thousands of passengers stranded abroad and at UK airports.

The National Air Traffic Services (NATS) previously said the chaos during and after the late August bank holiday was triggered by flight data that its system “didn’t understand”.

In a report released today, NATS explained the glitches that brought airports to a standstill.

NATS’ Chief Executive Officer Martin Rolfe, claimed the issue was a “one in 15 million” event, meaning engineers took a few hours to work out a situation they were unfamiliar with.

It was the first time this had happened in the five years the software had been operating, having processed more than 15 million flight plans, Rolfe said.

Problem identified

The problem was identified within a specific component of their air traffic control technical infrastructure known as the Flight Plan Reception Suite Automated – Replacement (FPRSA-R), which had encountered exceptionally uncommon circumstances.

The major disruption was caused by a flight plan that featured two identically named, but separate “markers” outside of UK airspace.

This led the system and its back-up to enter a fail-safe mode.

Technical glitch

While the organisation was swift to address the technical glitch and identify its source, the disruption wreaked havoc on air travel, leaving passengers stranded and flights delayed or cancelled.

NATS maintains that safety was not compromised during the ordeal.

As the affected passengers and airlines grapple with the fallout from this unusual incident, NATS has pledged to implement measures to safeguard against similar occurrences, ensuring a smoother and more reliable air travel experience for all.

Independent review

The UK Civil Aviation Authority will now independently review the wider issues around the system failure and how NATS responded to the incident.

If there is evidence that suggests NATS may have breached its statutory and licensing obligations, the UK Civil Aviation Authority will take appropriate steps.

Delays and cancellations

Coby Benson, flight delay compensation solicitor at specialists Bott and Co, said: “Airlines and airports can be hit by a range of problems, including strikes and technical problems, that can result in a raft of delays or even cancellations of flights.

“This can have a huge knock-on effect for passengers who are forced to either wait for their booked flight or seek an alternative mode of transport.

“Impacted passengers can claim up to £520 if the delay time is more than three hours, and airlines have a duty of care to provide things such as refreshments and even overnight accommodation if the delay is long enough.

“The circumstances where compensation may not be due include if it can be considered ‘freak’ or ‘wholly exceptional’, and therefore deemed an ‘extraordinary circumstance’. 

“Whatever the reason behind the cancellation of your flight, you are always entitled to either a free replacement flight or a full refund on your ticket, so it’s important to know your rights.

“You can always check with a flight compensation specialist to discover if you may be due a payout to make up for having to put up with the inconvenience during your well-earned break.”

Editorial photo credit: TK Kurikawa / Shutterstock.com

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