23 April 2024

Aviation bodies to rehearse flight disruption after air traffic control failure

23 April 2024

Aviation organisations will conduct an industry-wide rehearsal of major flight disruption in the wake of the August 2023 air traffic control (ATC) meltdown, MPs were told.

Martin Rolfe, chief executive of ATC provider National Air Traffic Services (Nats), said the event will be held “after the summer”.

Nearly 750,000 passengers were disrupted when flights were grounded at UK airports on August 28 last year after Nats suffered a technical glitch while processing a flight plan.

An inquiry into what happened published an interim report in March which highlighted the lack of “any multi-agency rehearsal of the management of an incident of this nature and scale”.

Giving evidence to the Commons’ Transport Select Committee on Tuesday, Mr Rolfe said Nats has proposed to regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) “we take the lead” on “running practice scenarios”.

He went on: “The CAA is supportive, the airlines and airports are supportive.

“We are planning to do an industry-wide practice run for a disruption scenario after the summer.”

Mr Rolfe also claimed having Nats’ engineers on-call at home is “a bonus”, following criticism of the practice.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, who has repeatedly called for Mr Rolfe to be sacked, claimed Nats engineers were “sitting at home in their pyjamas” when the ATC meltdown happened during the August bank holiday weekend.

The inquiry into the incident, set up by the CAA, found that on the day it took 90 minutes for a senior Nats on-call engineer to “arrive on-site in order to perform the necessary full system restart which was not permitted remotely”.

Mr Rolfe told the committee engineers at this level are based in offices on weekdays, but improvements in home-working systems mean they can be on-call at other times.

He said: “The working from home piece was actually more of a bonus because we now have the technology since the pandemic to allow them – when they are outside of their hours where they would normally be working at work – if they are called (while) on-call then they can immediately work remotely to try and diagnose the problem.

“Before the pandemic, it would have been worse. We would have had to get them physically in immediately.

“Now we have the ability for them to log on appropriately and securely, remotely.

“In many cases they fix the problem much more quickly than if they had to come into the office outside of normal hours.

“It’s an absolute advancement in how we deal with these things.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox