On Monday 28 August, a system-wide malfunction of the UK’s National Air Traffic Service (NATS) lasting several hours caused severe disruptions to flights to, from or simply passing over the Kingdom.
Although the issue was identified and remedied in a few hours, it took several days for schedules to return to normal, with more than 2,000 flights cancelled in 3 days all over Europe. Some passengers were left stranded at airports across the continent, while others decided to find alternative means of getting home, one couple spending 63 hours returning to Norwich from Split by bus and train instead of waiting for the next flight out, from fear of facing another cancellation.
At the time, NATS only said that the issue caused flight paths to be input manually, which meant a reduced number of flights could be processed. On 6 September, the agency published a report detailing the issue and fallout, saying that the technical issue had a “1 in 15 million” chance of occurrence and it took down both the primary and backup systems.
This report is factually inaccurate and full of rubbish.Michael O’Leary, Ryanair CEO
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary expressed his disappointment with the preliminary report, pointing not only to inaccuracies in the number of affected flights, but also to the lack of comprehensive explanations of what actually happened and, more importantly, why the backup systems failed.
“We have the ludicrous explanation from NATS that a bogus flight plan filing took down their main systems and then also took down the backup system. What is the purpose of a backup system if it clearly doesn’t back up your main system? (…) It doesn’t explain how or why the backup systems were crashed by one false flight plan and if they don’t explain that, this will happen again”, O’Leary said.
In the video, the CEO also points to NATS claiming only 1,500 flights were cancelled on Monday, whereas Eurocontrol confirmed over 2,000 flights cancelled that day. “More ludicrously, NATS claims that just 575 flights were delayed that day”, O’Leary continued, explaining that more 1,000 flights were delayed just from Ryanair, which only accounts for about a quarter of the traffic to and from the UK.
Lastly, similarly to a previous call from IATA, O’Leary is asking for NATS to take financial responsibility for the disturbances they caused passengers, reimbursing them for the additional costs they incurred due to the malfunction. The CEO stressed that he is not talking about compensation, but merely reimbursing passengers for their hotel, meals and transport expenses, which were “entirely due to NATS system failure”.
“I’m sitting here in front of a number of Minions who frankly would do a better job at running UK NATS than Martin Rolfe [NATS CEO] and his management team would. They’d also do a better job at investigating this complete system failure than Martin Rolfe and his management team would. It’s time for change in NATS, it’s time to have efficient and effective management who would at least ensure that when the system fails there’s an effective backup”, O’Leary concluded.