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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.
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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.”

Rishi Sunak orders review of low traffic neighbourhoods and says he’s on the side of motorists | Politics News

Rishi Sunak has ordered a review into the rollout of low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and said he was on the side of motorists.

The prime inister announced he had ordered the Department for Transport to review LTNs policies, which aims to make residential areas cleaner and safer to walk around in, in an interview in the Sunday Telegraph.

Under LTNs, local councils attempt to limit traffic in town and city centres – with drivers often prevented from using quiet residential roads as through-routes and it also encourages the uptake of other modes of transport.

However, opponents of the scheme say it has created hotspots of traffic which means people end up spending more time in their car.

Mr Sunak told the paper: “The vast majority of people in the country use their cars to get around and are dependent on their cars. When I’m lucky enough to get home to North Yorkshire it’s more representative of how most of the country is living, where cars are important.

“I just want to make sure people know that I’m on their side in supporting them to use their cars to do all the things that matter to them.”

The pitch to motorists and car owners comes after the Conservatives’ narrow victory in the Uxbridge and Ruislip by-election earlier this month, which saw the Tory candidate tap into local concerns about the expansion of London’s ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ).

That success has seen some Tory MPs on the right of the party urge Mr Sunak to engage in a rethink on net zero, amid hopes of attacking Labour’s green ambitions.

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ULEZ ‘landmark decision is good news’

The adoption of LTN policies has angered some Tory MPs who have criticised the measures as attacks on motorists and in recent months, it has emerged as a concern among some on the right of the Conservative Party.

Conservative MP Nick Fletcher suggested in the Commons earlier this year that traffic control plans being mooted by local councils across the UK were part of an “international socialist concept” which would take away personal liberties.

Read more:
LTNs are about ‘taking back control’ from Whitehall
Starmer told to ‘get off the fence’ and challenge Sadiq Khan on ULEZ

However, this is not the first time the prime minister has hit out at LTNs.

In last summer’s Tory leadership contest, he promised to review the policies to consider the impact on emergency services and knocked back calls to change the deadline for the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales.

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:
‘Air rage’ incidents almost triple in the UK
Worst airlines for UK flight delays revealed

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.”

Rail strikes and traffic warnings deal double blow to summer getaways and weekend plans | UK News

Summer getaways and weekend plans could be severely disrupted today during a fresh round of rail strikes – with an “amber traffic warning” also in force on the roads.

The Aslef union says train drivers at seven rail companies are staging a 24-hour walkout in a dispute over pay, and there are fears millions of passengers could be disrupted.

Elsewhere, the AA is warning motorists there could be severe congestion on major routes between 11am and 3pm today – with the South of England set to be particularly vulnerable.

A number of factors are to blame – including the rail strikes, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and the start of the Football League season in England.

Drivers are being told to prepare for stop-start traffic as the weekend gets underway, and the AA’s head of road policy Jack Cousens says the congestion will be a frustration for many.

He added: “As well as taking food and water, some form of entertainment for younger passengers might just hold off a sigh and mutterings of ‘I’m bored!’ for a while.”

Roads into the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone weren’t affected by the traffic yesterday, but National Highways says this weekend is “likely to be extremely busy”.

The UK and France have now put plans in place to prevent border chaos and “maximise passenger flows”, and weekly meetings will aim to avoid additional disruption on both sides of the Channel.

Some 140,000 passengers are expected to pass through the Port of Dover between Thursday and Sunday this week, as well as 45,000 cars and 18,000 freight vehicles.

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‘We need to remove power of militant unions’

‘More uncertainty and disruption’

The Rail Delivery Group has accused the Aslef union of timing its industrial action to coincide with major sporting events.

Today’s strike is affecting Arriva Rail London, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Hull Trains, LNER, Southeastern and West Midlands Trains.

Rail Delivery Group chairman Steve Montgomery said: “We’re really disappointed that the Aslef leadership has decided to impose yet more uncertainty and disruption for passengers and businesses in a week which has already seen a strike by the RMT.”

Passengers on affected routes are urged to plan ahead and check before they travel – and if trains are cancelled, travellers can change their ticket, get a refund, or use their ticket until Tuesday.

Further strikes are planned next month in the deadlocked row over pay, jobs and conditions – with Aslef’s general secretary Mick Whelan insisting industrial action is “always the last resort”.

He added: “We don’t want to inconvenience passengers, our friends and families use public transport too, and we don’t want to lose money by going on strike – but we’ve been forced into this position by the companies, who say they have been driven to this by the Tory government.”

Mr Whelan claimed that many Aslef members have not had a pay rise in three years – and with inflation “running at north of 10%”, these drivers have seen their pay fall in real terms.

“It’s not unreasonable to ask your employer to make sure you’re not worse off for three years in a row,” he said. “Especially as the train companies are doing very nicely, thank you, out of Britain’s railways, with handsome profits, dividends for shareholders, and big salaries for managers, and train drivers don’t want to work longer for less.”