Flight delays plagued Europe once again earlier this week, thanks to a computer glitch at the Eurocontrol centre in Brussels, Belgium.
The organisation, which is in charge of managing and coordinating air traffic across the skies of Europe, stated that it had eventually managed to fix the problem. However, the failure had, by then, already created enough havoc by causing delays across the continent.
In one of its official statements, the agency mentioned that the glitch most likely affected almost half the flights in Europe, which amounts to around 15,000 journeys. It then stated that the system had been restarted at 19:00 GMT, allowing for normal operations to continue.
The system failure, which occurred on Tuesday, was the second such event in two decades. According to Eurocontrol, the first one occurred in 2001.
The root cause
The failure was narrowed down to an issue with the “Enhanced Tactical Flow Management System”. This particular system is said to assist in the management of air traffic. It does this by comparing the capacity and demand across various air traffic control centres throughout Europe.
The system, typically, manages around 36,000 flights per day. On Tuesday, when the failure took place, it was managing around 29,500 flights.
The system is designed to activate a contingency plan when such failures take place. This involves a deliberate reduction in the whole European network’s capacity. In this case, there was a reduction of 10%. Apart from the capacity reduction, the system also introduced “predetermined departure intervals” across all the major airports.
Eurocontrol released another statement apologizing for the failure. The agency mentioned that it regretted the problems caused to the airline operators and more importantly, the passengers. The agency also added that it had never encountered such a problem in the recent past.
ATC not affected
The failure, however, did not have a direct impact on air traffic control. As a result, there was no actual threat to the safety of the passengers.
Many of the European airports had issued warnings, earlier in the day, about possible delays. Brussels airport responded to the failure by limiting the number of departures to just 10 per hour. Airports in Dublin, Helsinki and Amsterdam had also sent out notices announcing possible delays in their respective airports.
By afternoon, Eurocontrol sent out an announcement mentioning that the contingency plan would remain active for several hours. The agency said the contingency plan would not be revoked until enough data was made available to the system for it to resume operations as usual.
After enough testing was carried out, Eurocontrol decided to restart the system. This happened later in the evening.
Flight plans prior to 10:26 UTC had been deleted from the system. As a result, the agency had to request various airlines to send in the necessary flight plans.