Airports back to business as usual

This Is Lancashire: Passengers queue to check in and to re-book tickets at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport after a "technical problem" at the National Air Traffic Services Passengers queue to check in and to re-book tickets at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport after a "technical problem" at the National Air Traffic Services

Major airports reported that they were back to "business as usual" after an air traffic control centre glitch caused chaos across the UK and Ireland.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed yesterday after problems with a telephone system arose at the National Air Traffic Service (Nats) centre in Swanwick, Hampshire, in the early hours.

Thousands of people endured hours of frustration as flights were affected across the country, including the major airports of Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick. The problem was resolved at about 7.30pm yesterday, Nats said, more than 12 hours after first being reported.

It was feared there could be knock-on effects but other than a handful of cancellations at Heathrow, there were no further problems.

The issue arose when Nats' night-time operating system, which combines sectors of airspace for when it is less busy, did not properly switch over to the daytime system, causing a communication problem with the centre's internal telephones. They stressed that safety was not at risk at any time.

Heathrow was the worst affected, with 228 cancellations yesterday, representing 15% of its usual daily total of 1,300 flights going in and out of the airport.

A spokeswoman for Heathrow Airport said: "Today we have 18 cancellations - 11 arrivals and seven departures - and that's mostly due to crew displacement.

"Apart from that we are pretty much running as normal."

She explained crew displacement is when crew are not where they are meant to be, due to yesterday's cancelled and delayed flights.

A Stansted Airport spokesman said they had experienced no problems today, while a Gatwick Airport spokeswoman said: "We've been back to business as usual from this morning."

Nats said today that all operations were running as normal.

In a statement issued last night, they apologised for the disruption, saying: "The reduction in capacity has had a disproportionate effect on southern England because it is extremely complex and busy airspace and we sincerely regret inconvenience to our airline customers and their passengers.

"To be clear, this is a very complex and sophisticated system with more than a million lines of software. This is not simply internal telephones, it is the system that controllers use to speak to other ATC agencies both in the UK and Europe and is the biggest system of its kind in Europe.

"This has been a major challenge for our engineering team and for the manufacturer, who has worked closely with us to ensure this complex problem was resolved as quickly as possible while maintaining a safe service."

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