The cause of the UK air traffic control failure that caused chaos for plane passengers has been labelled an ‘international embarrassment’.
It has now been reported that the failure, which led to a spate of flight cancellations, was caused by a single piece of corrupted flight data received by National Air Traffic Services (Nats) from an airline. A quarter of flights at UK airports were cancelled during the incident.
Paul Charles, a travel consultant, told a national newspaper: “It is an international embarrassment that our whole air traffic system collapsed because of one flight plan. Without a doubt it’s one rogue file that came in and caused the whole system to freeze up.”
Analysis of flight data websites by the PA news agency shows at least 281 flights – including departures and arrivals – were cancelled on Tuesday at the UK’s six busiest airports. This consisted of 75 at Gatwick, 74 at Heathrow, 63 at Manchester, 28 at Stansted, 23 at Luton and 18 at Edinburgh.
Nats chief executive Martin Rolfe has confirmed that the incident was caused by flight data received by National Air Traffic Services (Nats), with both primary and back-up systems responding by suspending automatic processing. However, he said there are no indications that the failure was caused by a cyber-attack, in a statement released on Tuesday.
Rolfe also wanted to “reassure” people that all Nats systems have been running normally since Monday afternoon to support airline and airport operations.
He said: “Very occasionally technical issues occur that are complex and take longer to resolve. In the event of such an issue our systems are designed to isolate the problem and prioritise continued safe air traffic control. This is what happened yesterday.
“At no point was UK airspace closed but the number of flights was significantly reduced. Initial investigations into the problem show it relates to some of the flight data we received.
“Our systems, both primary and the back-ups, responded by suspending automatic processing to ensure that no incorrect safety-related information could be presented to an air traffic controller or impact the rest of the air traffic system. There are no indications that this was a cyber-attack.
“We have well-established procedures, overseen by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), to investigate incidents. We are already working closely with them to provide a preliminary report to the Secretary of State for Transport on Monday. The conclusions of this report will be made public.”
However, The Telegraph reports that the flight data that caused the failure related to a single piece of corrupt data from one airline. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman has refused to rule out suggestions that a flight plan by a French carrier may have corrupted the system.
Paul Charles, a travel consultant, told the newspaper “rogue information caused the outage”. He said: “One particular flight plan, whoever it was from, corrupted the whole system”.
“Wherever it is from, it is an international embarrassment that our whole air traffic system collapsed because of one flight plan. Without a doubt it’s one rogue file that came in and caused the whole system to freeze up.”
The Telegraph said it had confirmed with air traffic control sources that a single piece of data was responsible for the outage.