U.K. Flights Disrupted by Air-Traffic-Control Glitch

Date: Tuesday, August 29th, 2023
Source: Wall Street Journal

The U.K. restricted the number of flights into its airspace Monday for several hours after a technical issue disrupted its air-traffic-control system, delaying flights across the country and parts of Europe during a busy British holiday weekend.

The U.K.’s National Air Traffic Services said a computer glitch had affected the way it automatically processes flight information, forcing it to reduce the number of flights in and out for safety reasons.

A few hours later, the agency said that it had resolved the problem and that air traffic would slowly return to normal.

“We are now working closely with airlines and airports to manage the flights affected as efficiently as possible,” it said.

Hundreds of flights to and from the U.K. were delayed, causing long waits for thousands of passengers across Europe, many of them Britons who were returning home after a summer public holiday weekend, one of the year’s busiest for flying.

Aircraft with approximately one million seats had been scheduled to fly in and out of the U.K. on Monday, with about 3,000 flights departing the country and a similar number landing, according to aviation-data specialist Cirium.

As of 2:30 p.m. local time, more than 500 arrivals and departures had been canceled, representing around 8% to 9% of all flights at U.K. airports, according to Cirium. That number was expected to increase, it added.

The delays hit travelers during a second summer of flight disruption across Europe following the lifting of pandemic-era travel restrictions. More flights in Europe have been delayed this summer than during last year’s chaotic travel season, as the industry continues to battle with recovering services after a near-standstill during the pandemic.

Similar to the U.S., the U.K. and the rest of Europe have been struggling to adequately recruit and train enough air-traffic controllers, leading airports, including London Gatwick, to impose capacity restrictions at peak flying hours. Airlines have also been struggling to manage staffing shortages in other parts of the aviation ecosystem, including among pilots and ground-handling staff that tow aircraft, load baggage and prepare aircraft for takeoff.

In a separate failure on Monday, about a third of Italian airspace was disrupted by a technical outage of its main Flight Data Processing system used by air-traffic controllers to track aircraft. The airspace surrounding Rome was affected by a slowdown between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. local time leading to delays and some cancellations, a spokesman for Italy’s air navigation agency said.

On Monday, Nik Rahmel, a 29-year-old engineering manager, was stuck in the airport in Düsseldorf, Germany, after visiting family. He said his

British Airways

 flight back to London City Airport had been delayed from 1:50 p.m. on Monday afternoon to after midnight. But he said he didn’t know what to expect since the Düsseldorf airport closes at 11 p.m.

“There is no comms. The departure boards show the original departure time and no delay,” he said, adding that he hadn’t heard anything from British Airways about the disruption. “No text, no email, nothing.”

A British Airways spokeswoman said the carrier would “keep our customers up-to-date with the latest information.”

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