UK air traffic control meltdown 'blamed on single airline's wrong travel plan'

A major failure with the UK’s air traffic control system that impacted hundreds of thousands of air passengers has been blamed on an ‘incorrectly filed plan by a French airline’, according to reports.

There are fears that flights may continue to be affected for days with hundreds of flights estimated to have been cancelled already. By Monday afternoon 232 flights departing UK airports had been cancelled and 271 arriving flights, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. This equates to about 8% of all expected departures and 9% of expected arrivals, Cirium added.

Airports are warning passengers to check with individual airlines that their flight is still going ahead before beginning journeys on Tuesday. NATS, the national air traffic controllers, based in Swanwick in Hampshire, confirmed the issue had been “identified and remedied” on Monday evening. While its operations director said the failure would be investigated “very thoroughly”. The glitch meant the system used by traffic controllers, which provides details of every aircraft and their routes, stopped updating automatically.

According to The Times sources have suggested that the issue could be the result of an incorrectly filed plan by a French airline. They said that Nats would not comment on the matter and the airline said to be involved has not been identified.

Earlier, NATS chief Julie Kennedy said of the problem: “First of all, I’d like to apologise for the impact on people’s travel plans today. Our teams worked hard to resolve the problem, and I’m pleased to say it was fixed earlier on this afternoon.

“However, it will take some time for flights to return to normal. And we will continue to work with the airlines and the airports to recover the situation. Our absolute priority is safety and we will be investigating very thoroughly what happened today.”

Families travelling to and from the UK are now facing several hours of grinding delays after the technical issue as they’re told they could be waiting until the early hours of the morning before they can board a flight.

As countless flights have been grounded, unable to take off or land in the UK, airports not just in the UK but around Europe and beyond have been affected. One retired barrister, who is stuck in Sardinia, has claimed an easyJet pilot told her he’d not seen an incident like this in 20 years.

Gemma Saleh, a 43-year-old retired barrister, said she boarded an easyJet flight with her family at 11.30am Sardinia time (10.30am London time), which was headed for Gatwick, and she remained on the plane for close to two hours.

She said: “We were told as we started to taxi there was an issue with the air traffic computer but he didn’t know more and we’d wait on the tarmac till we got a slot. [The pilot] also said as we are ‘rescue’ we would be able to find a slot soon, maybe 30 mins. He’s not seen this in 20 years.”

Elsewhere, BBC presenter Gabby Logan, 50, was one of those caught up in the chaos as she attempted to fly back to the UK from the Hungarian capital after covering the World Athletics Championships.

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