Technical problem latest glitch to hit air traffic system

Significant delays being suffered by passengers are the result of the latest problem to hit National Air Traffic Services’ multimillion-pound computer systems.

The country’s leading provider of air traffic control services operates from two centres: Swanwick in Hampshire, which opened in 2002 and covers 200,000 square miles of air space over England and Wales; and Prestwick in South Ayrshire, covering northern England, Scotland and out into the north-east Atlantic.

Swanwick handles an average of 5,500 flights each day, equating to two million a year, carrying 200 million passengers.

Previous problems have included:

– July 2019 – more than 50 flights were cancelled at London airports following an “issue with radar displays” at Swanwick.

– April 2018 – an overhaul of the Nats system at Swanwick led to delays of up to 20 minutes for flights bound for Heathrow and Gatwick for up to three weeks. This was exacerbated by a failure of the Europe-wide traffic control system – not operated by Nats – which caused 15,000 flights across the continent to be cancelled or delayed, affecting half a million passengers.

– August 2017 – The Guardian reported that thousands of passengers had been hit by flight delays because of high sickness rates at the Nats centre in Swanwick.

– October 2015 – air passengers in Scotland faced delays after Nats reported interference on radio frequencies used to speak to aircraft.

– December 2014 – Nats pledged to compensate thousands of passengers after a technical fault led to 10,000 people facing delays at Heathrow with a total of 16,000 minutes of delays at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Heathrow Airport. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA. 

– December 2013 – 126,000 minutes of delays were caused as hundreds of flights were cancelled after a problem with Nats’ internal telephone system.

– July 2013 – a computer failure at Swanwick, which involved a “rogue” flight plan being set up, caused dozens of flights to be delayed.

– February 2011 – technical problems at Nats caused delays including at Glasgow and Manchester.

– October 2009 – Transatlantic flights from Britain were grounded for three hours after a system failure at Prestwick.

– September 2008 – nearly 100 flights were cancelled at Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton after a computer glitch at Swanwick.

– June 2004 – a system crash at Nats’ previous base in West Drayton, near Heathrow Airport, meant flights had to be manually guided in by air traffic controllers.

Source: International Media

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