A member of parliament has called for the chief executive of Britain’s National Air Traffic Service (NATS) to be stripped of his bonus after dozens of flights were cancelled and hundreds more delayed across the South of England on Friday and Saturday. Richard Deakin, the CEO of NATS, currently has a pay package of more than £1 million a year, including a £272,000 bonus.
On Friday Breitbart London reported that airspace above London was temporarily closed, and then severely restricted following major computer failure at its centre in Swanwick, in southern England, leaving planes circling overhead. The glitch caused the cancellation of around 70 flights on Friday, including 16 at Gatwick airport in Sussex, and a number of diversions. Heathrow airport cancelled a further 38 short-haul flights yesterday as they attempted to clear the backlog, the Mail on Sunday has reported.
Following the disruption, Labour MP Paul Flynn told the Sunday Times “I hope after the chaos, which was dreadful, though a rare event, he will have his bonuses stripped from him.” Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin has said that the incident was “simply unacceptable”. Mr McLoughlin will be questioned about the incident when he appears before the Transport Committee at the Houses of Parliament tomorrow.
Manchester, Stansted, Luton and Bristol airports also reported delays on Friday, whilst further north, Aberdeen and Edinburgh airports were also affected by the glitch.
However, Mr Deakin has defended the system, telling the BBC that the skies remained safe despite the computers going off line. “The problem was when we had additional terminals brought into use and we had a software problem that we haven’t seen before which resulted in the computer which looks after the flight plans effectively going off line,” he said.
“The good news is of course that everything came back online 45 minutes later, the back-up plans went into action as they should have done, so everything performed normally there, the skies were kept safe.
“Unfortunately there was reduced capacity and I would just like to reiterate our apology that we have made to passengers and indeed to airlines and airport customers for the disruption that was caused. But I think the key message is that the skies were kept absolutely safe during that 45 minutes of problems that we experienced at Swanwick.
He reiterated that it was a “very unusual event”, adding “The challenge is that we have around 50 different systems at Swanwick and around four million lines of code. This particular glitch was buried in one of those four million lines of code.”
Thousands of passengers who ought to be able to claim up to £470 in compensation for suffering long delays or cancellations may not receive the cash, thanks to EU rules stipulating that insurance companies don’t have to pay out if the incident was caused by “extraordinary circumstances”. It is not clear whether the computer glitches could fall into that category, but experts have warned affected passengers not to bank on a payout.
EU rules decree that passengers are entitled to compensation if they are delayed by more than three hours, but the rules also include the get out clause for airlines. A number of them used the clause in 2010 to avoid paying out to passengers whose flights were cancelled or delayed due to the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud that lingered for weeks.