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NEWS Last modified on December 16, 2014

Independent inquiry into UK air traffic control failure

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and National Air Traffic Services (NATS) have launched an independent inquiry following the disruption caused by the failure in air traffic management systems on Friday afternoon.

The CAA will, in consultation with NATS, appoint an independent chair of the panel which will consist of NATS technical experts, a board member from the CAA and independent experts on information technology, air traffic management and operational resilience.
 
Skies above London were in disarray after a computer error at the control centre in Swanwick, Hampshire, on Friday, and NATS says the glitch had restricted air traffic controllers' ability to deal with high volumes of aircraft.
 
The full terms of reference will be published following consultation with interested parties including airlines and consumer groups but it is expected that the review will cover a number of issues.
 
These include the root causes of the incident on Friday; NATS’ handling of that incident to minimise disruption without compromising safety; and whether the lessons identified in the review of the disruption in December 2013 have been fully embedded and were effective in this most recent incident.
 
And a review of the levels of resilience and service that should be expected across the air traffic network taking into account relevant international benchmarks; and further measures to avoid technology or process failures in this critical national infrastructure and reduce the impact of any unavoidable disruption
 
The computer failure caused huge problems at airports around the country on Friday - including delays at Heathrow and Gatwick, where departing flights were grounded for a time, while UK airports reported knock-on effects.
 
A statement from NATS, said on Friday: "Swanwick controller workstations provide a number of tools and services to the controller to enable them to safely control a high volume of air traffic.
 
"In normal operations the number of workstations in use versus in standby fluctuates with the demands of the traffic being controlled.

"In this instance a transition between the two states caused a failure in the system which has not been seen before. The failure meant that the controllers were unable to access all of the data regarding individual flight plans which significantly increases their workload.

"Our priority is to maintain a safe operation for the flying public; consequently when the failure occurred we immediately took steps to reduce the traffic into and out of the UK network.

"The controllers had a full radar picture and full communications with all aircraft at all times during the incident and at no time was safety compromised in any way."

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