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Air traffic control: NATS ‘not ruling out anything’ after glitch causes widespread disruption | UK News

The chief executive of National Air Traffic Services (NATS) has said he cannot reveal the cause of the glitch which has affected thousands of passengers but is “not ruling out anything at this stage”.

Martin Rolfe said on Tuesday evening that an initial investigation had found that the air traffic control failure was caused by flight data received.

However, he later told Sky News: “You will understand we have very complex systems, handling something in the region of two million flights a year and the safety of those passengers is incredibly important to us.

“We are not going to rush into saying what the cause is until we absolutely fully understand.”

Night flights given go ahead to ease disruption – air traffic chaos latest

Reports have suggested the chaos may have been caused after a French airline misfiled its flight plan.

Without confirming the reports, Mr Rolfe said: “It could be a single flight plan… if it is a flight plan that has caused this, we know it is something in the flight data and we will get to the bottom of it and understand why.”

A woman points at a flight board at Heathrow Airport, as Britain's National Air Traffic Service (NATS) restricts UK air traffic due to a technical issue causing delays

However, he added: “I’m not ruling out anything at this stage.

“We are conducting an investigation, we will conduct it incredibly thoroughly.”

Despite Mr Rolfe saying he is not ruling anything out, NATS said earlier there is “no indication” it was targeted in a cyber attack.

Hundreds of flights around the UK have been cancelled after yesterday’s air traffic control disruption. The incident on Bank Holiday Monday meant flight plans had to be uploaded to systems manually, slowing or cancelling air traffic across the country.

Thousands of passengers were affected by yesterday’s disruption – and many are still waiting for their flights today.

NATS suffered what it described as a “technical issue”, preventing it from automatically processing flight plans.

This resulted in flights to and from UK airports being restricted while the plans were checked manually.

NATS said at 3.15pm on Monday the problem was resolved, but disruption continued into Tuesday as many aircraft and crews were out of position.

Read more:
‘I’ve been awake for 22 hours stranded in a foreign airport’
Airline boss blasts flight delays as thousands stranded
Am I entitled to compensation after air traffic control chaos?

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Hundreds ‘stranded in shocking conditions’

Analysis of flight data websites shows at least 281 flights – including departures and arrivals – 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.

EasyJet announced it will run five repatriation flights to Gatwick following the air traffic control fault as well as operating larger aircraft on key routes.

Aviation analytics company Cirium said 790 departures and 785 arrivals were cancelled across all UK airports on Monday.

That was equivalent to around 27% of planned flights and means around a quarter of a million people were affected.

British athletes were stranded in Budapest after the World Championships.

Passengers at Heathrow Airport as disruption from air traffic control issues continues across the UK and Ireland. Travel disruption could last for days after flights were cancelled, leaving thousands of passengers stranded during a technical fault in the UK's air traffic control (ATC) system. Picture date: Tuesday August 29, 2023.
Image:
Passengers at Heathrow Airport

A group of around 40 athletes and staff from UK Athletics returned to their hotel in the Hungarian capital on Monday night because of the flight chaos.

Some of the affected athletes chose to travel directly to Zurich for Thursday’s Diamond League event.

Holidaymakers stuck in the UK and abroad described their frustration, as some had no idea when or how they would get to their destination.

Vicki Ostrowski has emailed Sky News to say she was stranded in Oslo with a “disabled, wheelchair-bound passenger with a neurological disease, an 83-year-old frail relative, plus three other family members”.

She added: “I myself will run out of essential heart medication two days before the flight they have reassigned us on 2 September at 5pm!”

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Traveller stranded without medication

Kayleigh, another reader, got in touch to say she was stuck at Las Palmas airport in Gran Canaria.

“It’s been 13 hours, it’s freezing, and we are trying to get some sleep on the cold floor,” she said.

“There are children lying on the cold floor, people making public speeches about the airline and it is sheer pandemonium.

“I have never felt so helpless. Been awake for 22 hours. We’ve now spent 14 hours in the airport. We were told if we waited 2-3 hours they would sort out a hotel.

“We have still heard nothing with ground staff saying they don’t know anything and no one has been around to check if people are okay!”

Heathrow Airport warns services will ‘remain significantly disrupted’ after UK air traffic control fault | UK News

Heathrow Airport has said its services will “remain significantly disrupted” on Tuesday after air traffic controllers across the UK experienced a technical fault.

In a statement about the “technical issues” that affected the National Air Traffic Services (NATS), Britain’s busiest airport urged passengers to contact their airline before travelling to the airport.

“The issue has been resolved, however schedules remain significantly disrupted,” it said.

“If you are travelling on 29th August, please ensure you contact your airline before travelling to the airport.”

Brits stuck abroad as warnings disruption could last into the week – live updates

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London Gatwick has said it plans to operate a normal schedule on Tuesday following the disruption.

However, passengers have been advised to check the status of their flight with their airline before travelling to the airport.

London Stansted also said it planned to run a normal flight schedule on Tuesday, but added “our terminal may be busier than anticipated”.

And major UK airlines such as Tui and BA warned of “significant delays” for passengers amid changes to schedules.

By Monday afternoon 232 flights departing UK airports had been cancelled along with 271 arriving flights, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. It equates to about 8% of all expected departures and 9% of expected arrivals, Cirium added.

The technical fault meant flight plans had to be input manually by controllers.

Read more:
What we know about system failure and how it’s affecting flights

What have airports said about the disruption?

While NATS has confirmed it has fixed the technical issue with the UK’s air traffic control system, airports have warned the disruption it has caused will continue. Here’s what some of them have said.

London Luton Airport: “The earlier technical issue with air traffic control systems has now been resolved, however widespread disruption continues across UK airspace.”

Manchester Airport: “As a result of the nationwide technical problem experienced by NATS earlier today, there continues to be flight disruption, including delays and cancellations.”

Newcastle International Airport: “We understand that the technical issue with National Air Traffic Services is now resolved, but it will take some time for operations to get back to normal.”

London Stansted Airport expects to run a normal flight schedule on Tuesday 29 August, following the nationwide technical issue that affected air traffic control. We do still advise passengers to check the status of their flight with their airline before travelling to the airport. As our airlines look to accommodate passengers whose travel plans have been disrupted over the past 24 hours, our terminal may be busier than anticipated.
Our teams will be working with our airlines and their handing agents to get you through the airport as smoothly as possible. Thank-you for your understanding.

Heathrow Airport: We apologise for any inconvenience as a result of the NATS technical issues today. The issue has been resolved however schedules remain significantly disrupted. If you are travelling on 29th August, please ensure you contact your airline before travelling to the airport.

Gatwick Airport plans to operate a normal schedule on Tuesday 29 August following disruption today (28 August). Passengers are however advised to check the status of their flight with the airline before travelling to the airport.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said on Monday that “despite resolving the technical issue behind today’s air traffic control issues, flights are still unfortunately affected”.

He said he would encourage all passengers to read the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s guidance and “be aware of their rights when flights are delayed or cancelled”.

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‘I can’t get home to my nine-month-old baby’

Technical issue ‘remedied’ but travellers face continued disruption

Earlier on Monday NATS said the “technical issue” affecting its flight planning system had been “identified and remedied”, but travellers continued to face disruption.

“We are now working closely with airlines and airports to manage the flights affected as efficiently as possible,” NATS said.

“Our engineers will be carefully monitoring the system’s performance as we return to normal operations.

“The flight planning issue affected the system’s ability to automatically process flight plans, meaning that flight plans had to be processed manually which cannot be done at the same volume, hence the requirement for traffic flow restrictions.

“Our priority is always to ensure that every flight in the UK remains safe and we are sincerely sorry for the disruption this is causing. Please contact your airline for information on how this may affect your flight.”

Sadiq Khan accuses government of ‘weaponising air pollution’ahead of London ULEZ expansion | Politics News

Sadiq Khan has accused the government of “weaponising air pollution” ahead of the expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone next week.

The mayor said he was “disappointed” at the lack of government support for the policy and its accompanying scrappage scheme.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper has urged Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to make his position on ULEZ “clear”, saying in a letter: “You have the power to stop it.”

Read more: Where the expanded Greater London ULEZ zone will cover

Mr Harper suggested “Labour plan to use air pollution to attempt to justify bringing in pay per mile charging for every car in London”.

This has been denied by City Hall and called “complete nonsense”.

Mr Khan said: “It was this government that gave financial support to cities like Bristol, Birmingham and Portsmouth towards their clean air zones. If clean air is right for them then why isn’t clean air right for London?

“Why has the government given no support to London? I am disappointed at the lack of support from the government.

“I am disappointed that they seem to be weaponising air pollution and climate change.”

The ULEZ expansion is set to take place on Tuesday, and will take the zone up to London’s borders with Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey.

A ULEZ sign in central London

Those who drive in the newly expanded zone in a vehicle that does not meet minimum emissions standards will need to pay £12.50 a day fee or risk a £180 fine, reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days.

A £160m scheme run by Transport for London has offered grants of up to £2,000 to all Londoners who wish to scrap any car or motorcycle that is non-compliant with the zone’s emissions standards.

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In response to Mr Khan, the government stressed that transport and air quality decisions are “devolved to London”.

A spokesperson added: “The government has provided TfL £6bn since 2020 to keep public transport moving and almost £102m for projects specifically targeted to help tackle air pollution.”

An illustration of the expanded ULEZ zone
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An illustration of the expanded ULEZ zone

The expansion of ULEZ has been a controversial topic for months, with Labour blaming the scheme for its loss at the Uxbridge by-election in July.

‘I invite you to make your position clear’

This was mentioned by the transport secretary in his letter to Sir Keir. He said: “Your position on ULEZ has changed frequently. In January, you said the mayor was ‘right’ to extend ULEZ.

“Following the Uxbridge by-election you asked the mayor to ‘reflect’ on the issue, which he showed no sign of doing. Last week, you said the decision to expand ULEZ will ‘disproportionately’ hit people struggling with the cost of living.

“You have also let it be known that you would not favour the expansion of similar schemes in cities outside of London.

“And yet Labour’s mayor is still expanding ULEZ. I invite you to make your position clear.”

Mr Harper went on to tell Sir Keir that while he does not have the “legal power to prevent the ULEZ expansion being introduced, you do have the power to stop it”.

Sky News has contacted the Labour Party for a response.

Air traffic control strikes could put up to a third of summer flights in Europe at risk | UK News

Hundreds of thousands of flights across Europe this summer are in jeopardy after air traffic controllers vowed to take strike action.

Up to 12,600 flights every day – around a third of the journeys made across the continent during the peak summer holiday period – could be delayed or cancelled as a result of the industrial action.

Workers at Eurocontrol, which manages European airspace, have said they will walk out in a dispute over pay, working hours and staffing issues, according to The Times.

An industry source told the newspaper: “In a full-blown strike, 20 to 30% of flights would be at least delayed.”

The source added: “They are big numbers”.

The first round of strikes is expected to be announced as soon as Monday unless last-minute crisis talks can reach an agreement.

Passengers face long queues at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands File pic: AP
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Passengers face long queues at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands. File pic: AP

But officials at the European air traffic management body are said to have described the walkouts as “inevitable”, with no contingency plan believed to be in place.

It is more bad news for holidaymakers who were warned earlier this week to brace themselves for a “challenging” summer of travel involving delays and longer flight times, in particular to and from London, Barcelona, Brussels, Athens, Marseille and Budapest.

Eurocontrol is expecting around 33,000 flights for the next eight weeks – with the number set to rise to 34,000 on Fridays in July and August.

Impact ‘massive and extremely disruptive’

The impact of the strikes is predicted to be “massive and extremely disruptive”, a senior airline source claimed.

In a letter to managers, the transport workers union Union Syndicale Bruxelles (USB), called for more controllers to be hired immediately.

Eurocontrol – which handles tens of thousands of messages from pilots and staff every day – is believed to be operating with a 25% shortfall, equating to 40 workers.

The Times reports the letter says: “As difficult as industrial action is on everyone, we see no other path forward than to inform you of our decision to progress [with strikes].”

The union said its demands are “lawful, strong and fair” and “in the interest of the agency, the network manager, our stakeholders (operational and member states), the flying public at large and ourselves as loyal employees of the agency”.

Read more:
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Wizz Air and Ryanair passenger numbers soar

Summer of strike action looms

Eurocontrol director-general, Raul Medina, earlier said the war in Ukraine meant there was less airspace available for travel.

“To be successful over the summer, we need everyone to play their part,” he said.

“Airports need to be well-staffed, it is vital (air traffic services) provide enough capacity and airlines stick to their schedules.”

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A summer of disruption looms

A Eurocontrol spokesperson told Sky News that a trade union “announced a period of six months during which industrial action could take place” in its network manager operations centre.

“No specific dates for industrial action have been announced; this was a pre-warning,” they said.

The company is “actively engaging with all social partners” and is “committed to finding solutions through social dialogue”, the spokesperson added.

“Eurocontrol is making every effort to keep negotiations open and to find a constructive way forward.”

The threat of action comes as budget airline Ryanair this week announced more than 900 journeys were cancelled in June as a result of air traffic control strikes across France – with around 160,000 people affected by the grounded flights.

French air traffic controllers took part in a series of strikes last month – marking their 60th day of action this year – with a 34-hour walk-out, which ended on 30 June.

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TUC criticises the government’s new Strikes Bill

Strikes are continuing in other industries, too.

In the UK, schools in England are facing further disruption as teachers stage their second strike this week on Friday.

Junior doctors in England will strike for five consecutive days this month – from 7am on 13 July until 7am on 18 July – in what will be the longest NHS walkout in history.

Disruption to rail journeys is also set to intensify as an overtime ban was extended, as ASLEF general secretary Mick Wheelan vowed to take action for 20 years until an agreement was reached.

The union boss told Sky News: “It is still our intention to find the resolution… we’re going to keep taking action until someone listens to us.”

Sir James Dyson claims Rishi Sunak’s science superpower pledge is hot air | Politics News

Billionaire businessman Sir James Dyson has issued fresh criticism of the prime minister, claiming his pledge to turn the UK into a science and technology superpower is a “mere political slogan”.

The founder and chief engineer of the multinational technology company Dyson also complained – in a letter to The Times – that he has still not met Rishi Sunak, despite being a major entrepreneur in the UK.

“Ministers talk hubristically of Britain becoming a ‘science and technology superpower’ but their woeful policies diminish this to a mere political slogan,” he wrote.

“In the UK, Dyson now faces rocketing corporation tax (wiping out any tax credits for research and development)… and a crippling shortage of qualified engineers.”

Read more:
James Dyson says growth is ‘a dirty word’ for Rishi Sunak’s government

Jeremy Hunt plans for UK to become a ‘science superpower’
Rishi Sunak vows to make UK ‘science superpower’

Mr Sunak’s ambition of turning the UK into a science superpower post-Brexit has been central to his premiership. A key part of this was the creation of a new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

In January, Sir James accused the government of having a “short-sighted” approach to business, warning the prime minister that growth should not be seen as a “dirty word”.

A government spokesperson said that the UK is open for business as an “innovation nation”.

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Can the UK become a ‘science superpower’?

“We boast the biggest tech sector in Europe, reaching a combined market value of £1trn in 2022, we have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7, and we have world-leading strengths in science and R&D – backed by our £20bn R&D target and introduction of policies like full-expensing,” they said.

“This will spur stronger growth, better jobs and bold new discoveries, bringing together the key technologies of tomorrow like quantum and AI, into a dedicated Department for Science, Innovation and Technology for the first time.”

During Jeremy Hunt’s autumn budget, the UK’s science and technology sector survived a much feared spending cut – but those in the field warned that the government will need to do more to realise the UK’s potential as a “science superpower”.

Gary Lineker back on air as Alan Shearer addresses ‘difficult situation’ after tweet row | UK News

Gary Lineker has returned to his presenting duties on the BBC, with football pundit Alan Shearer speaking about the “difficult situation” he and his colleagues faced after a row over impartiality.

Lineker was forced off air in a row over a tweet criticising the government’s migration policy, with his co-presenters standing down from Match Of The Day last weekend in solidarity.

Shearer was speaking as he joined Micah Richards and Lineker – who opened the show by saying it was “great to be here” – on Saturday evening for FA Cup coverage, a week after viewers had to make do with a severely limited version of the programme due to the dispute.

He said: “I just need to clear up and wanted to say how upset we were for all the audiences who missed out on last weekend.

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‘Hopefully BBC moving beyond Lineker row’

“It was a really difficult situation for everyone concerned and through no fault of their own, some really great people on TV and in radio were put in an impossible situation, and that wasn’t fair.

“So it’s good to get back to some sort of normality and be talking about football.”

Lineker responded: “Absolutely, echo those sentiments.”

Tweets posted by Lineker, 62, had compared the language used by government to launch its new asylum seeker policy to that used in 1930s Germany.

The row worsened after Lineker’s BBC sport colleagues, including Shearer, walked out in solidarity.

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Richards had not been due to appear that weekend but had said on social media that if he had been, he would have done the same.

That meant Match Of The Day could only air for 20 minutes and without accompanying commentary or analysis, and without even its theme tune.

Sunday’s edition ran for just 15 minutes.

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After the dispute, BBC director-general Tim Davie apologised and said an independent review had been launched looking into the corporation’s social media guidelines, particularly for freelancers like Lineker.

Before returning to live presenting as part of the BBC’s coverage of the FA Cup quarter-final between Manchester City and Burnley, Lineker tweeted a number of times.

He wrote “back to the Saturday job” in the morning, before a selfie at the stadium captioned “Ah the joys of being allowed to stick to football”.

He also posted a photo of himself with Richards and Shearer, describing them as “teammates”

Royal Air Force grounds its entire fleet of fast jet training aircraft due to engine problem | UK News

The Royal Air Force has grounded its entire fleet of fast jet training aircraft because of an issue with an engine, Sky News can reveal. 

It is not known when flying training on the Hawk T2 jets at an air base in North Wales will resume.

The pause will be another blow for a training programme to deliver fast jet fighter pilots that has already been plagued by problems and chronic delays for years.

Sky News revealed last year that an “emerging” problem had been identified with the Rolls-Royce engine on the Hawk jet, used by fast jet recruits for training at RAF Valley.

A source on Wednesday claimed the issue involved engine blades wearing out.

“Now one has broken and gone down the engine,” the source said, asking to remain anonymous.

An RAF spokesperson confirmed that flying on the Hawk 2 jet had been paused “as a precaution”.

“Post a recent issue on the runway involving an RAF Hawk TMk2 engine, as a precautionary measure, flying has been temporarily paused pending the results of the technical investigation,” the spokesperson said.

It is understood that the RAF is working closely with the manufacturer and awaiting analysis on the specific engine.

Flying training will only resume when it is deemed safe to do so.

The problem with the training fleet will not impact the Red Arrows team, which operates Hawk T1 aircraft.

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In an exclusive report last August, Sky News, citing leaked documents, revealed how issues with the Hawk training aircraft and a “damaging drain” of flying instructors quitting for jobs in the industry had helped push the RAF’s fast jet pilot training into a new crisis.

RAF recruits can spend up to eight years passing through the training pipeline. The length of time should be only two or three years.

Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, gave Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, the head of the RAF, the task of fixing flying training as his only priority more than three years ago.

The Hawk T2 is a single-engine aircraft manufactured by BAE Systems, though the engine is made by Rolls Royce.

Air on London Tube network polluted with metal particles small enough to enter human bloodstream | UK News

Travellers on London’s Tube network could end up with metallic particles from the polluted air in their bloodstream, a study has found. 

The tiny metal substances hanging around ticket halls, platforms and train driver cabins have been analysed for the first time by a team of University of Cambridge researchers.

They found high levels of a type of iron oxide called maghemite, which they said suggests pollution particles are suspended for long periods due to poor ventilation, particularly on platforms.

Some of the particles have a diameter of just five nanometres, making them small enough to be inhaled and end up in passengers’ and workers’ bloodstreams, University of Cambridge researchers found.

About 3.5 million daily journeys are made on the London Underground on weekdays.

The samples were collected in 2019 and 2021 from locations including Oxford Circus, King’s Cross St Pancras and Paddington stations.

The researchers did not look at whether the metal particles pose a direct health risk, but said their methods could inform future studies.

Professor Richard Harrison, one of the senior authors on the study, said: “If you’re going to answer the question of whether these particles are bad for your health, you first need to know what the particles are made of and what their properties are.

“Our techniques give a much more refined picture of pollution in the Underground.

“We can measure particles that are small enough to be inhaled and enter the bloodstream.

“Typical pollution monitoring doesn’t give you a good picture of the very small stuff.”

passengers wearing masks on the tube

Transport for London’s chief safety, health and environment officer Lilli Matson, said: “We have been working for many years to improve air quality on the Tube, and will continue to do so.

“We periodically collect samples of Tube dust and analyse its content to track levels of potentially harmful materials, including iron, chromium and nickel.

“Analysis has shown that quantities of these materials are well below the legal limits in environments such as the Tube.

“Our monitoring has shown that dust levels on the Tube remain well below limits set by the Health and Safety Executive.”

TfL had developed a number of “innovative” cleaning methods, she said, including the use of industrial backpack dust cleaners.