Wednesday, 19 Jun 2024

Air traffic chaos that saw thousands stranded caused by '1 in 15,000,000' event

A technical glitch which caused widespread disruption to flights last week was a ‘one in 15 million’ occurrence, according to an air traffic control boss.

Many impacted travellers waited days for flights home which were either severely disrupted or cancelled.

It meant more than a quarter of flights were cancelled on Bank Holiday Monday, affecting around 250,000 people over a two-day period.

National Air Traffic Services (Nats) chief executive Martin Rolfe said one of its systems failed after it ‘didn’t process (a) flight plan properly’.

He said: ‘We know it’s at least one in 15 million, because we’ve had 15 million flight plans through this system and we can be absolutely certain that we’ve never seen this set of circumstances before.’

The plan submitted by the airline – which has not been named – was ‘not faulty’, he added.

The problem led to Nats being unable to process flight plans automatically for several hours on August 28, a bank holiday Monday, and a peak period for air travel.

The subsequent switch to manual processing meant the average number of plans it could handle dropped from around 400 per hour to as few as 60, leading to restrictions on flights to and from UK airports.


Nats did not identify the route of the flight plan which led to the chaos but stated the aircraft was scheduled to enter UK airspace during an 11-hour journey. in a report shared with transport secretary Mark Harper.

The flight plan was submitted to Eurocontrol – which oversees ATC across Europe – before being passed on to Nats.

The process led to the plan featuring two waypoints around 4,000 nautical miles apart but with identical names.

It meant Nats’ software was unable to extract a valid UK portion of the flight plan and reacted by shutting down.

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