Passengers Alerted: UK Flight Turbulence Could Last Days Following Air Traffic Control Technical Meltdown

credit: theguardian

UK (Parliament Politic Magazine) –  Holidaymakers returning and those aiming to depart from UK airports are grappling with cancellations and delays that might stretch up to 12 hours post takeoff, following the suspension of inbound flights and takeoffs due to an expansive computer malfunction termed “network-wide.” 

This event emerges as a consequence of a technical breakdown within UK air traffic control, leaving hundreds of thousands of passengers marooned or postponed during the summer bank holiday. While a few flights managed to remain operational, the flow of air traffic suffered considerable constraints as engineers grappled with pinpointing and resolving the underlying issue.

Airline Responses and Passenger Disruptions

Due to the necessity of manual input for flight plans by controllers, approximately 500 flights had to be canceled, while many others encountered hours of delays. It wasn’t until 3.15pm, nearly four hours after the initial problem emerged, that Nats (the national airspace controllers) declared the problem “identified and rectified.”

Passengers across UK and European airports found themselves stranded, facing shattered travel plans and closed check-in counters. Airlines were unable to provide assurance about the departure status of their flights.

The prolonged service disruption is expected to generate chaos for multiple days, triggering subsequent delays for both flight crews and aircrafts displaced from their intended positions.

British Airways extended the offer for passengers scheduled to travel on Monday or Tuesday, permitting them to reschedule flights without incurring charges. Meanwhile, Heathrow advised passengers to verify flight confirmations before venturing to the airport on Monday evening.

UK Airspace Closure Affects Travel Plans

At Gatwick, approximately 150 flights were axed, leading easyJet to cancel nearly all international departures on Monday afternoon. Although specific details for Tuesday’s flights were not yet confirmed, the airline anticipates a continued impact on schedules.

As per flight tracking platforms, flight departures experienced delays starting around 11:30 am. Nats officially acknowledged the issue around 12:10 pm, citing a “technical problem” and implementing safety-driven traffic flow limitations.

After addressing the initial glitch, Nats stated, “We are collaborating closely with airlines and airports to manage the affected flights as efficiently as possible. Our engineers will closely monitor system performance during the restoration of normal operations.”

“Safety of all flights within the UK is our utmost concern, and we deeply apologize for the inconvenience this situation is generating. For details on how this might impact your flight, kindly get in touch with your airline.”

Cirium, an analytics company, reported that by 2:30 pm, 232 departing flights from the UK and 271 incoming flights had been cancelled, constituting approximately 10% of the total services.

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Significant Disruptions Amidst Key Travel Date

A representative from Heathrow communicated that flight timetables would continue to experience substantial disruptions throughout the remainder of the day. They further stated, “We kindly request passengers to proceed to the airport solely if they have received confirmation that their flight is still on schedule. Teams throughout Heathrow are exerting maximum efforts to mitigate the ripple effects and provide support to individuals whose travel plans have been influenced.”

A spokesperson from British Airways remarked, “Similar to all airlines utilizing UK airspace, our flights have faced extensive disruptions… Although Nats has now resolved the issue, the resulting delays and cancellations have been significant and unavoidable. We are putting in our best efforts to swiftly get customers affected by these disruptions back on track, and we deeply apologize for the immense inconvenience experienced.”

Travel operator Tui cautioned their customers to anticipate “notable delays” for certain flights. Flights departing from Ireland were also impacted, given that many of them pass through UK airspace.

In addition to holidaymakers, those affected by the delays included British athletes and individuals returning from the World Athletics Championships in Hungary.

BBC presenter Gabby Logan shared on X that her aircraft was stranded on the runway at Budapest airport, expressing, “After being away from home for almost three weeks, I’m now just hours away from reuniting with my family. However, I’ve just been informed that UK airspace is closed. We might be stuck on the plane for up to 12 hours, waiting.”

Nats engineers were engaged in a race against time to mitigate the consequences of the outage, which could possibly be the most severe since the inauguration of its control center in Swanwick, Hampshire, back in 2002. This incident coincides with a pivotal date in the travel calendar.

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.