UK airspace hit by failure of air traffic control systems - as BA 'cancels all domestic and European flights until 6pm'

28 August 2023, 12:08 | Updated: 30 August 2023, 06:36

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Thousands of passengers will be affected by flight delays
Thousands of passengers will be affected by flight delays. Picture: Getty/Alamy/FlightRadar24/social media
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

There has been a network-wide failure of UK air traffic control systems, the country's leading service provider has said, causing the cancellation of at least 500 flights.

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NATS, the national air traffic controllers, said in a statement: "We are currently experiencing a technical issue and have applied traffic flow restrictions to maintain safety.

"Engineers are working to find and the fix the fault.

"We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause."

A spokesperson for NATS confirmed UK airspace is not closed, with air traffic flow restrictions in place in order to maintain safety.

But LBC has been told that British Airways has cancelled all domestic and European flights until at least 6pm due to the issue.

There is no indication on when normal travel service will resume.

According to data from aviation analytics firm Cirium as of 14:30pm today, more than 500 flights have been cancelled due to the technical issue, around 8.5 per cent of arrivals and departures.

This does not include flights that have been delayed.

British Airways plane
British Airways plane. Picture: Getty

According to aviation analyst Alex Macheras, even just a few minutes of a system failure would cause significant travel chaos.

“This is going to be significant. In fact, it already is and that’s because this is a system failure with the UK’s air traffic control service provider," Mr Macheras told LBC's Sangita Myska.

"They are responsible for handling and managing the UK’s air traffic control across UK airspace, on of the busiest airspaces across all of Europe."

He added that the worst affected by the system failure will be "flights not yet departed or are abroad and preparing to depart to the UK".

"It only takes a few minutes of this type of outage to rack up significant delays. We are now over the hour mark. If [you’re] aircraft has not yet taken off, expect significant disruption," he added.

UK passengers are facing extreme delays
UK passengers are facing extreme delays. Picture: Getty

Heathrow, the UK's biggest airport, has said it is "working closely" with NATS and other airports to "minimise the impact" on passengers.

“As a result of national airspace issues there is disruption to flights across the UK," a spokesperson for the airport said.

"Passengers are advised to check with their airline for the latest information. We are working closely with NATS and other airport partners to minimise the impact this has on passengers.

Read More: Exact date 10-day heatwave to hit UK after washout Bank Holiday weekend

Dozens of passengers have reported delays of around three to five hours.

Meanwhile, TV presenter Gabby Logan said she faces 12 hour delays as she returns from Budapest.

She wrote: "After almost 3 weeks away from home I am hours from hugging my family. And have just been told UK airspace is shut.

"We could be here for 12 hours. So we sit on the plane and wait."

Read More: Passengers injured as UK cruise ship crashes into freight vessel due to high winds in Mallorca

Posting on Twitter, a spokesperson for Loganair said: "There has been a network-wide failure of UK air traffic control computer systems this morning.

"Although we are hopeful of being able to operate most intra-Scotland flights on the basis of local coordination and with a minimum of disruption, north-south and international flights may be subject to delays.

Passengers face a full day of delays
Passengers face a full day of delays. Picture: Getty

"If you are flying with us today, please check our website for the latest information about your flight before setting off for the airport," they added.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for British Airways said: "We are working closely with NATS to understand the impact of a technical issue that is affecting UK airspace, and will keep our customers up to date with the latest information."

The Liberal Democrats have called on the Prime Minister to convene a Cobra meeting after a technical fault hit air traffic control in the UK.

Transport spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said: "Rishi Sunak and his ministers need to get a grip on this issue urgently and hold a Cobra meeting.

"Millions of holidaymakers could be facing huge disruption in the coming days due to this fault and we can't risk this Government being missing in action yet again.

"Brits need to know that the Government is doing all it can to make sure people aren't hit with major delays and disruptions in the coming days."

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