UK crippled by faulty flight data processor

Airspace capacity over the United Kingdom has been restored following a flight data processing failure which grounded hundreds of flights although airlines are warning passengers that there could be severe delays running into the weekend.

NATS, Britain’s national air traffic service, said it suffered a technical problem at its area control centre in Swanwick in the south of the UK around the middle of the afternoon.

“Following a technical fault with the flight data system used by air traffic controllers at Swanwick, NATS can confirm that the system has been restored to full operational capability and a thorough investigation is continuing, to identify the root cause.”

“Although operational restrictions applied during the failure have been lifted, it will take time for flight operations across the UK to fully recover so passengers should contact their airline for the status of their flight.”

“Given the severe impact, it really has to be a failure of the main Flight Data Processor called ‘NAS’. A NAS failure would affect the whole UK, not just Heathrow and Gatwick, which kind of points at the NODE system, which is used for radar control within the London Terminal Area,” one expert told Air Traffic Management. “If NODE failed, they would have had to clear the skies,” he said, adding, “the NAS does not have a redundant processor, so any failure will bring the service down, unlike the US ERAM system, which has quadruple redundancy.”

Earlier today, Europe’s network manager Eurocontrol had said there would be no flights at UK airports until 7pm although shortly after 4pm NATS reported that UK airspace capacity had only been restricted in order to manage the situation.

British Airways is advising its customers to check whether their flights are still departing from London airports tonight, after the airspace restrictions caused by the technical failure at Swanwick.

“We are working hard to look after our customers who have been affected by the air traffic control failure experienced by all airlines at Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports,” the airline said, adding, “We anticipate disruption to both departing and arriving flights but will do all we can to minimise any impact.”

On December 7 last year, NATS took a day to return to normal operations after the ground communications system in its Swanwick area control operations room failed.

NATS chief executive Richard Deakin said at the time: “A public debate has started over the level of contingency NATS had in place. We delivered over 90 per cent of an extremely busy schedule of flights during the day and recovered to normal operations in 14 hours. We believe this is an appropriate level of contingency that balances both a good level of service to our customers with an affordable level of cost for them to bear.”

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One Response to UK crippled by faulty flight data processor

  1. Rev Tim Lovejoy says:

    NATS is a huge Windows customer and anyone who has used this operating system is probably scared out of their mind at the idea of having it be at the heart of such a sensitive operation.

    So dont rock the boat and just say ‘computer problems.’