Principal flight service provider of UK, National Air Traffic Services (NATS), faced heavy criticism and humiliation following the space closure on December 12 caused by a technical glitch in the computer services. The glitch had caused a shutdown of the system, which handles about 5,000 flights per day and controls 200,000 square miles of space, for as long as 45 minutes causing innumerable cancellations and delays. Operations in airports including the busy facilities of London Gatwick and London Heathrow were majorly disrupted, albeit the power is being restored soon and contingency plans being implemented.
An investigation carried out by NATS and the UK Civil Aviation Authority discovered that the technical glitch was a part of a hitherto unheard fault that happened in the system which switching it to ‘Active mode’ from ‘Standby mode’. The failure of the control system has proliferated fear of safety of air travel and further possible disruptions in the future. However, NATS Chief Executive Richard Daekin assured that there would not be any future disruptions as the glitch has been removed.
What angers passengers the most is that this is a repeat of a similar disruption that had occurred a year ago at Swamwick centre, when almost 300 flights were cancelled and hundreds of others were delayed. Delays continued for the next few days as the number of aircrafts that could be handled safely slipped drastically. The passengers of British Airways were the worst affected as a number of airliners were grounded post the shutdown. The closure added to the woes of airliners from the air-traffic control strikes this year on other parts of the continent.
Airlines industry business was also hit by the NATS closure. International Airlines Group, which owns British Airways was buoyed by the falling prices of oil when the closure happened. As news about the closure hit new media, the stocks started to fall, losing 5.2 per cent to 456.8 GBX at close.It is still trading at 473 GBX and yet to recover. Low cost air carrier easyJet finished that day down 28 per cent at £16.40.
NATS had announced that it would look into the matter seriously and compensate for the losses incurred by airline services due to their service breakdown. An official had announced last week that all it had accepted the responsibility of financial consequences and that the amount to be transferred to the airline companies is being calculated. However, the passengers who lost money will have to seek all kinds of reimbursements and compensations directly from the airline companies.
The mayhem caused on Dec 12 by a small technical problem that lasted for 45 minutes is yet to be cleared, even after two weeks. The government had termed the incident “simply unacceptable” and has asked NATS to be more vigilant about similar system breakdowns in the future. NATS, which is a partly privatized entity, has been facing such system issues for quite some time causing inconvenience to a number of airline companies and passengers alike.