- By Katy Austin and Lora Jones
- Transport Correspondent and Business Reporter, BBC News
The Ryanair boss has slammed a report of the flight chaos seen on the public holiday as “rubbish”.
Michael O’Leary claimed the findings “minimize the impact on the aviation industry” and that the report was “full of apologies”.
The UK’s air traffic control system has been destroyed in a “one in 15 million” case, the head of National Air Traffic Services (Nats) said on Wednesday.
As a result, hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled on August 28.
Industry group Airlines UK says carriers have incurred huge costs to provide accommodation and offer more flights to customers stranded overseas.
He is now asking for these costs to be covered.
Mr O’Leary told the BBC the disruption would cost the airline between £15m and £20m in reimbursements for hotels, food and other travel arrangements.
He said “there would be no problem” for customers claiming charges, but demanded that Nats, which controls the UK’s air traffic services, “accept responsibility for its incompetence”.
Tim Alderslade, Managing Director of Airlines UK, said: “Airlines cannot be the insurer of last resort.
“We cannot find ourselves in a situation where airlines carry the burden every time we see a disruption of this magnitude.”
The group represents British Airways, EasyJet, Jet2, Ryanair, Virgin Atlantic and Tui.
EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren also said “many questions still remain unanswered” after Nats released an initial report into the exact cause of the system crash.
“An incident of this magnitude should not have happened and must not happen again,” he added, saying he looked forward to a “wider” review.
How did the airport chaos unfold?
In its initial report released on Wednesday, Nats said that at 8.32am on August 28, its system received details of a flight which was due to cross UK airspace later that day.
Airlines submit each flight path to the national control centre; these should be automatically shared with Nats controllers, who oversee UK airspace.
The system detected that two beacons along the planned route had the same name, even though they were in different locations. As a result, he could not understand the British part of the flight plan.
This triggered the automatic shutdown of the system for security reasons, so that no incorrect information was transmitted to Nats air traffic controllers. The backup system then did the same.
It happened in just 20 seconds.
Engineers struggled to fix the problem and reached out to the manufacturer for help.
Martin Rolfe, managing director of Nats, said the system has done “what it was designed to do, which is to safely fail when it receives data it cannot process”.
He described it as “one flight plan out of 15 million we received”, meaning the engineers took a few hours to solve a situation they didn’t know about.
It was the first time this had happened in five years that the software had been running, having processed more than 15 million flight plans, he said.
Nats said he has taken steps to prevent this situation from happening again.
“We were in a situation where we had thousands of flights in the air and we were getting a piece of data that our systems couldn’t process. If that happened today, we would be perfectly able to process it,” said Mr. Rolfe at the BBC. Program of the day.
The British aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), has also announced an independent study, the report of which is expected in a few months. The watchdog said it could take action if Nats breached “legal and licensing obligations”.
Mr Rolfe again apologized to customers whose holidays were affected during an interview with the BBC.
“We fully understand how disruptive the events of the bank holiday have been for people.”
With planes and crews displaced and most flights already booked, many people have found themselves stranded abroad on what is usually a great day for travel – a public holiday – and face long expectations to return home.
Over the past week, airlines have made additional flights to try to reduce the delay.
But questions remain as to how a single flight plan could cause such significant disruption. For a time, flight plans had to be processed manually, which meant restrictions were placed on the number of flights that could be processed.
The system was back online just before 2.30pm BST. It was not until shortly after 6:00 p.m. that the restrictions on air traffic were completely lifted.
Nats and the CAA say safety has never been compromised.
The Nats report also cites Eurocontrol data that 5,592 flights operated in UK airspace on August 28, 2,000 (or 25%) less than expected. This includes canceled flights and those that avoided UK airspace.
Nats estimates there were around 1,500 cancellations for Monday alone, with all UK airlines affected.
“Systems of this nature are in use all over the world and this scenario has never been encountered before,” the CAA wrote after its first assessment of Nats’ report detailing what went wrong.
The CAA said the event “is now understood and if it happens again, it would be resolved quickly with no effect on the aviation system.”
Mr O’Leary is also calling on Transport Secretary Mark Harper to order Nats to reimburse the airlines for these costs, saying ‘it’s the moral thing to do’.
MP Mark Harper said he was pleased to receive confirmation that there were no security concerns.
He added that the aviation watchdog’s independent review “will investigate this event further and determine if further action needs to be taken to improve the resilience of the air traffic control system”.
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