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Officials Attribute Air Traffic Control Failure to Flight Data, Not Cyberattack

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The UK air traffic control failure was caused by flight data received by National Air Traffic Services (NATS), with no indication of a cyberattack, said NATS CEO Martin Rolfe.

Both primary and back-up systems responded by suspending automatic processing to ensure air traffic controllers don’t get incorrect information, Mr. Rolfe said in a statement.

Thousands of passengers were stranded on Monday, as their flights to and from the UK were cancelled owing to the “network-wide failure.” Air traffic authorities said the issue was identified and fixed in the afternoon on the same day.

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However, the knock-on impact affected travel on Tuesday, with airlines still having to manage the aftermath of the disruption.

Mr. Rolfe apologised for the technical failure and said that since Monday afternoon “all of our systems have been running normally.”

NATS manages around 2 million flights a year and “very occasionally technical issues occur that take longer to resolve,” he said.

“In the event of such an issue our systems are designed to isolate the problem and prioritise continued safe air traffic control. This is what happened yesterday. At no point was UK airspace closed but the number of flights was significantly reduced,” the NATS chief said.

He said the cause of the failure was not a cyberattack.

His words echoed a statement by transport minister Mark Harper, who on Monday said the outage was owing to a “technical issue,” not a “cyber security incident.”

Passengers wait at Stansted Airport, north of London, after UK flights were delayed over a technical issue, on Aug. 29, 2023. (Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)
Passengers wait at Stansted Airport, north of London, after UK flights were delayed over a technical issue, on Aug. 29, 2023. (Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)

Investigation

NATS will provide a preliminary report into the incident to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Sept. 4. Traffic services follow established procedures, overseen by the CAA, to investigate incidents. According to Mr. Rolfe, the conclusions of the report will be made public.

The transport minister met with aviation industry representatives on Tuesday. NATS briefed Mr. Rolfe, the CAA, airlines, airports, trade bodies, and Border Force on what went wrong. The airlines provided the minister with the latest updates on their operations and the support they’re offering to passengers.

“Airlines are clear about their responsibilities to their customers and I stand ready to provide further appropriate support from the government should the industry request it,” Mr. Rolfe said after the meeting.

He warned that although the air traffic control system is back up and running, travellers will continue to see the knock-on effects of Monday’s outage over the coming days.

The transport minister said he will be reviewing the interim report on the cause of the failure alongside aviation minister Charlotte Vere.

Airlines

The second day of disruption saw at least 281 flights—including departures and arrivals—cancelled at the UK’s six busiest airports.

Chief Executive of CAA Rob Bishton said in a statement that in the event of delays or cancellations, passengers should be provided with food and drink, as well as accommodation if delayed overnight.

The CAA has civil powers to take enforcement action in relation to a range of passenger rights legislation and general consumer law. Airlines are required to comply with the law and take measures sought by the CAA.

If airlines don’t follow through, the CAA can seek an enforcement order from the court.

Shadow transport minister Louise Haigh criticised the government for having “sat on their hands for too long” while airline passengers were denied basic rights and compensation.

Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, Ms. Haigh said that Downing Street has failed to grant new enforcement powers for the CAA to hold airlines to account.

Easyjet has announced five repatriation flights to London Gatwick over the coming days from Palma and Faro on Aug. 30, from Tenerife and Enfidha on Aug. 31, and from Rhodes on Sept. 1.

“We are also operating larger aircraft on key routes including Faro, Ibiza, Dalaman and



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