Flights risk ‘diversion’ amid UK air traffic system failure, Simon Calder says
Aircraft and flight crew are out of position after the severe disruption on bank holiday Monday, when more than 1,500 flights to and from the UK were cancelled as a result of the National Air Traffic Services system failure.
Around 200,000 people are starting the day where they did not wish to be – with many expecting to be stranded for several days.
Already on Tuesday nearly 300 flights have been cancelled at the UK’s six busiest airports alone.
Most are short-haul departures from London Heathrow, including Athens, Ibiza and Pisa. But transatlantic flights are also affected, with the Heathrow-Nashville and Gatwick-Tampa cancelled.
After “remedying” the issue on Monday, National Air Traffic Services warned the ensuing disruption could last further into the week, adding that the failure would be investigated “very thoroughly”.
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More than 1,500 UK flights cancelled on Monday
Aviation analytics company Cirium said 790 departures and 785 arrivals were cancelled across all UK airports on Monday.
That was equivalent to around 27 per cent of all planned flights and means that around 250,000 people were affected.
Andy Gregory29 August 2023 14:14
Downing Street not ruling out French airline error may be to blame for meltdown
Our Politics and Whitehall Editor Kate Devlin reports:
Downing Street has said that airlines should be “proactively” communicating with passengers about their rights and taking “every possible steps” to communicate with their passengers about the disruption they are facing.
And No 10 did not rule out that an error by a French airline could have caused the chaos.
Andy Gregory29 August 2023 13:59
What is causing the air traffic control chaos? The authorities have some explaining to do
It’s the £80m question: Why are airlines facing enormous financial losses while their passengers endure extreme distress?
The last week of August is a time of high demand for air travel, especially from returning holidaymakers. Because of the UK’s limited airport infrastructure, especially in southeast England, there is precious little slack in the system: Heathrow and Gatwick are, respectively, the busiest two-runway and single-runway airports in the world.
So the UK’s normally well-regarded air traffic control (ATC) system needed to be working perfectly on bank holiday Monday.
The Independent’s travel expert Simon Calder looks at what may have gone wrong in his latest Plane Talk analysis:
Andy Gregory29 August 2023 13:50
Hundreds of flights cancelled again on Tuesday
Hundreds of flights have been cancelled again today, after some 1,200 flights were grounded on Monday in what marked the worst day for UK aviation since the Iceland volcano in 2010 .
Analysis of flight data websites by the PA news agency shows at least 281 flights were cancelled on Tuesday at the UK’s six busiest airports.
This consisted of 75 at Gatwick, 74 at Heathrow, 63 at Manchester, 28 at Stansted, 23 at Luton and 18 at Edinburgh.
Many other flights were significantly delayed.
Andy Gregory29 August 2023 13:29
French airline’s ‘dodgy flight plan set system meltdown in motion’
The Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder reports:
Several sources have told me that a French airline filed a dodgy flight plan that made no digital sense. The Nats system should automatically have identified an anomaly and spat out the plan, saying “try again”.
Yet instead, the flight plan was ingested and set in train a shutdown of the entire system. The closest analogy I can come up with is a spanner being thrown into an extremely well-tuned machine – let’s say an aircraft engine – and shutting the whole thing down. The big question Nats has to answer is: why wasn’t there protection against said spanner, and what is being done to avoid a repeat?
Safety was never an issue: UK air-traffic control has a well-deserved reputation for superb professionalism. But with so much emotional and financial cost being paid by passengers and airlines, the air-traffic control provider has some explaining to do. Very soon.
Andy Gregory29 August 2023 13:20
ICYMI: Everything you need to know about air traffic control failure on Tuesday as more flights cancelled
If you’re just joining us, here’s everything you need to know about the air-traffic control failure that led to thousands of flights being cancelled across the UK on Monday:
Maanya Sachdeva29 August 2023 13:00
Ryanair CEO says Nats failure is ‘not acceptable’
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has said it’s “not acceptable” that the national air-traffic control service “simply allow their computer systems to be taken down”, in a statement posted on X (formerly Twitter).
“It’s not acceptable that UK Nats simply allow their computer systems to be taken down, and everybody’s flights get cancelled or delayed,” Mr O’Leary said in a video statement, addressing the travel chaos that gripped the Bank Holiday weekend.
Maanya Sachdeva29 August 2023 12:31
No 10 addresses speculation over cause of air-traffic control outage
Downing Street did not rule out the possibility that an inputting error by a French airline could have caused the disruption.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “There’s going to be, think you’ll know that there’s going to be an investigation by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) and a report shared with Government.
“I think (Transport Secretary) Mark Harper confirmed this morning he’ll be getting that in days.
“I’m not going to pre-empt that. I’ve seen, obviously, various bits of speculation, but I’m not going to pre-empt the work that needs to be done.”
But he added that experts had confirmed it was a “technical issue, not a cybersecurity incident”.
Asked if officials would speak to counterparts across the English Channel, the spokesman said “you would expect them to be speaking regularly” with other countries “but I’m not aware of any specific conversations with French counterparts”.
Maanya Sachdeva29 August 2023 12:16
How long will it take for everyone to be brought home?
Some passengers stranded overseas as a result of Monday’s air-traffic control shutdown are telling The Independent that they have been offered flights in one week’s time.
In a week when millions are returning to the UK, there is immense pressure on capacity – and at least 300,000 people with flight cancellations are adding to that.
Passengers whose flights have been grounded go to the back of the queue. But in previous episodes of extreme disruption, long enforced stays abroad are rare.
The scale of the problem diminishes because travellers planning short breaks who are unable to travel out often cancel the whole trip; some passengers find alternative ways to get home, eg on trains or ferries from Continental Europe; and to distant destinations such as the Canary Islands and Turkey, airlines will often put on rescue flights.
These are most likely to happen on Wednesday and Thursday, before what is expected to be an extremely high-pressure weekend for inbound travel to the UK.
Maanya Sachdeva29 August 2023 11:55
£80m: estimated cost to airlines of air-traffic control shutdown
How much is the air-traffic control failure likely to cost airlines?
Simon Calder, travel correspondent of The Independent, has done a back-of-a-boarding pass calculation.
It now seems likely that at least 300,000 passengers will be stranded for at least one night.
All are entitled to a hotel room until the airline can bring them back. Even if only half of them manage to find one, assuming an average two-night stay at £100 per person – plus £40 for meals – the care costs could total £42m.
The other big cost is lost revenue: in the last week of August airlines have been commanding extremely high fares. If only 5 per cent of the 3.5 million passengers expected on UK-touching flights were to cancel, assuming a £200 average fare, airlines could lose £35m.
Add a conservative £3m for extra staff costs and sundries, and losses to reach £80m.
The airlines that will sustain the highest losses are British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair.
Maanya Sachdeva29 August 2023 11:40