March 1, 2024

Industry hit hard by NATS fiasco

Travel managers and TMCs continue to work hard to help business travellers caught up in the disruption caused by an air traffic control failure on Monday.

The Business Travel Association said its members have drafted in additional staff to cope with a massive spike in calls, which rose by 356% following the glitch.

A fault in a single flight plan is believed to have caused the meltdown on Bank Holiday Monday, the National Air Traffic Service (NATS) has confirmed.

Media reports are emerging that it was caused by a French airline but this has not been verified.

Just under 2,000 flights to and from the UK had to be cancelled as a result of outage, affecting an estimated 250,000 passengers.

Clive Wratten, CEO of the BTA, said: “The National Air Traffic Services (NATS) recent failure has not only impacted holiday go-ers. Business travellers are not able to complete their journeys meaning their deliverables are impacted, which can have a knock-on effect for the economy. 

“BTA members have brought in additional staff to deal with the spike in calls which on Monday, increased by 356%.

“Those travelling a multi-leg journey will experience severe delays in getting from point A to point B, but our members and airline partners are working hard to ensure travellers experience as seamless a journey as they can amongst this chaos.”

NATS CEO Martin Rolfe apologised to those affected and said the systems are now running normally.

“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,” he said.

“This is what happened on Monday. 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.”

He said NATS was working closely with the CAA to provide a preliminary report to the Secretary of State for Transport on Monday.

“The conclusions of this report will be made public,” he added.

IATA Director General Willie Walsh said NATS has “crucial questions to answer about their responsibility for this fiasco”.

He told the BBC Radio’s Today programme the disruption could cost the aviation industry close to £100 million.

“The failure of this essential service is unacceptable and brings into question the oversight of the CAA who are required to review the NATS resilience plan under the terms of its licence,” he said in a statement.

“This incident is yet another example of why the passenger rights system isn’t fit for purpose. Airlines will bear significant sums in care and assistance charges, on top of the costs of disruption to crew and aircraft schedules. But it will cost NATS nothing.

“The UK’s policy makers should take note. The passenger rights system needs to be rebalanced to be fair for all with effective incentives. Until that happens, I fear we will see a continuing failure to improve the reliability, cost efficiency, and environmental performance of air traffic control. The current system does not protect passengers. It hurts them.”

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