Independent inquiry into air traffic failure

An independent inquiry will be established following the technical failure at the UK’s air traffic control centre, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has announced.

The technical error, deemed “simply unacceptable” by UK’s Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, caused travel chaos with hundreds of flights being cancelled or delayed to and from London.

In a joint statement, the CAA and the National Air Traffic service, said: “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.”

The review will cover the root causes of the incident and further measures to prevent a repeat scenario, with the full terms of reference expected to be published after consultation with "interested parties including airlines and consumer groups".

According to Richard Deakin, chief executive of NATS, failures of this sort are extremely rare and when they do occur it is because they are unprecedented.

“If they do occur, root causes are identified and corrections made to prevent them happening again. We have never seen a repeat occurrence once a fix has been made.”

However, according to the software analysis company CAST, it is unlikely that the issue has been fully resolved despite the fact that the glitch was caused by “one line of code in four million” and it was fixed in less than an hour.

"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,” CAST said in a statement.

The technical failure generated major outcry from passengers who took on Twitter to complain, but also from British government officials.

Paul Flynn, a Labour MP, told The Sunday Times: "I hope after the chaos, which was dreadful, though a rare event, he will have his bonuses stripped from him," talking about Deakin.

Another incident in December last year hit the NATS hub at Swanwick when thousands of passengers were left stranded and the disruption was felt beyond Britain.

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