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Fri, Sep 01, 2023

Theory Suggests U.K. ATC Crippled by Misfiled Flight Plan

Issue of Unknown Origin

Air travelers across the E.U. contended with flight delays, cancellations, and the uncertainties occasioned thereby when technical difficulties rendered the United Kingdom’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) system largely unusable on Monday, 28 August 2023.

In a statement, Britain's National Air Traffic Service (NATS) set forth a technical issue had restricted the flow of aircraft in and out of the U.K., thereby inducing the delay or cancellation of at least five-hundred flights.

In point of fact, more than 1,500 flights were canceled in the wake of a system failure so grave that U.K. air traffic controllers were forced to switch to manual means—the strip and shrimp-boat method—of managing air traffic.

Some hours after the ATC system’s paralysis, NATS reported its personnel had "identified and remedied" the technical issue and were "now working closely with airlines and airports to manage the flights affected as efficiently as possible."

In the absence of a compelling official explanation of the so-called technical issue’s nature and cause, aviation pundits have proffered a theory positing a flight-plan incorrectly filed by an as-of-yet-unnamed French airline may have precipitated the system-wide ATC failure and the ensuing chaos.

While the veracity of the poison Franco flight-plan postulate remains uncertain, it can be stated with certainty that claims of the technical issue’s resolution were grossly exaggerated.

Tuesday, 29 August found some two-hundred-thousand air travelers stranded, still, on account of ongoing troubles with the U.K.’s ATC system. By midday, nearly three-hundred flights had been canceled at the nation’s six busiest airports alone—primarily short-hauls from London Heathrow (LHR) to destinations the likes of Athens (ATH), Ibiza (IBZ), and Pisa (PSA). However, a number of transatlantic flights—such as LHR to Nashville (BNA) and London Gatwick (LGW) to Tampa (TPA)—were also canceled.

NATS officials contended the ongoing technical issue is being “very thoroughly” investigated, but conceded the possibility that ATC woes may last well into the week.

U.K. Transport Secretary Mark Harper warned on 29 August that it would “take days to resolve the issues, even though the fault was fixed after a few hours on Monday.”

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated: "The transport secretary is in constant dialogue with all the industry participants. He will be talking to airlines specifically later today and making sure that they support passengers to get home as quickly as possible.”

Mr. Harper chaired a Tuesday meeting with NATS, the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), airlines, airports, trade bodies and Border Force, during which he asserted Parliament would be reviewing a report from NATS in the coming days.

Harper informed meeting attendees U.K. government officials did not believe the technical issue by which the country’s ATC system had been waylaid was the result of a cyber-attack.

U.K. flag-carrier British Airways averred it is working hard "to get back on track" and had offered passengers flying short-haul routes opportunity to change flight dates free of charge.

London Heathrow, Britain's busiest airport, advised passengers to contact their airlines prior to traveling to the airport.

FMI: www.nats.aero

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