Air traffic control should pay airlines’ costs for the flight chaos which could run to £100 million and left thousands of passengers stranded, an industry boss has said.
The IT meltdown caused by an “incredibly rare” glitch that led to thousands of flight cancellations was “staggering”, the head of National Air Traffic Services admitted.
It is estimated that the failure could cost airlines up to £100 million, according to William Walsh, the director general of the International Air Transport Association.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4, he said: “The costs of the disruption at an industry level are in the tens of millions, possibly up to £100 million, as a result of this failure.
“Airlines will not be able to get that back so Nats should pay, and if Nats is fined, they shouldn’t pass that cost onto airlines.
“The people responsible for the cancellations should bear the costs because at the heart of this is a failure that shouldn’t have happened.
“It’s staggering… The system should reject data that’s incorrect, not collapse the entire thing. It demonstrates a considerable weakness that must have been there for some time.
“That explanation doesn’t stand up from what I know of the system. There are a lot of questions Nats need to answer.”
A single rogue flight plan has been blamed for the chaos, with Downing Street refusing to rule out a French airline was to blame.
More than 1,100 flights were cancelled following the “technical issue” which was caused by “some flight data we received”, according to Nats.
Martin Rolfe, the chief executive of Nats, told BBC Radio 4: “This is staggering because it’s so incredibly rare.
“It is a significant failure, but it wasn’t a system failure. The whole system did not go down, we lost part of the system.
“The piece that failed did so because it didn’t recognise a message, and that meant we were not able to process as many flights as we normally would.”
He added: “I’d like to offer my sincere apologies to everyone affected by the failure on Monday.”
A third of all journeys were cancelled on Monday, according to data aviation company Cirium, with hundreds more flights axed on Tuesday too.
Nats remedied the fault at around 3.15pm after announcing it just before midday on Monday, but widespread disruption had already occurred in that time.
Nats receives around 6,000 flight plans every day and millions throughout the year for planes departing and arriving in UK airspace.
Airlines submit every flight path to the national control centre and these should automatically be shared with Nats controllers. But on Monday, Nats received data that it could not process.
The incident will be investigated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Nats has confirmed there were no signs the failure was caused by a cyber-attack.
Across Europe, thousands of holidaymakers are trying to find a way home with some facing delays of up to two weeks, according to The Sun.
It reported that around 200,000 passengers were told their first flight home could be at the end of next week.
EasyJet is operating five repatriation flights to Gatwick, with the first two setting off on Wednesday.
The airline said: “During this traditionally very busy week for travel, options for returning to the UK are more limited on some routes and so EasyJet will be operating five repatriation flights to London Gatwick over the coming days from Palma and Faro on August 30, and Tenerife and Enfidha on August 31 and from Rhodes on September 1.
“We are also operating larger aircraft on key routes including Faro, Ibiza, Dalaman and Tenerife to provide some additional 700 seats this week.”
A Manchester Airport spokesman said its operations were back to “business as usual” with “no significant disruptions” but conceded it would be a slightly busier day as backlogs are cleared.
The impact continued on Wednesday with at least a further 42 flights to or from Heathrow cancelled.
A Heathrow Airport spokesman said: “Things are continuing to improve, a small number of flights will still be affected by the delay but the majority will get away as scheduled.”