A system-wide malfunction in the UK’s National Air Traffic Service (NATS) caused severe flight disruptions on Monday and although the issue has been fixed, it is expected it will take several days for schedules to return to normal.
Around 11:30 am yesterday, flight tracking websites started signalling delayed flights at UK airports or international flights heading to the UK. At 12:10 pm, NATS confirmed a technical issue, clarifying 30 minutes later that airspace was not closed, but traffic just restricted to ensure the safety of all operations.
Our absolute priority is safety and we will be investigating very thoroughly what happened today.Juliet Kennedy, NATS Operations Director
At 2:20 pm, the agency announced the technical issue affected their ability to automatically process flight plans. Having to input the plans manually heavily reduced the volume of processed flights, causing the disruptions.
The confusion was further exacerbated by airlines themselves not knowing whether they would be able to operate flights or not, leading to delays of up to 12 hours. By 2:30 pm only, 232 flights scheduled to depart from the UK and another 271 scheduled to arrive back to the UK had been cancelled, according to data from analytics company Cirium. Airports across the country issued warnings asking passengers to check the status of their flights and not travel to the airport if their flight is cancelled.
Although by 3:15 pm NATS had “identified and remedied” the issue, returning to a regular flight schedule is expected to take several days until all the delayed and cancelled flights are sorted. “Millions of holidaymakers could be facing huge disruption in the coming days”, warned Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons and transport spokesperson.
“Like all airlines using UK airspace, our flights have been severely disrupted as a result of a major issue experienced by NATS Air Traffic Control earlier today. While NATS has now resolved the issue, it has created significant and unavoidable delays and cancellations”, British Airways said in a statement. “We are working with the relevant authorities to understand the impact of this issue and the timescale for normal operations to resume”, EasyJet said. Tui has also issued warnings of “significant delays” until all operations return to normal.