10 April 2002

UK flight chaos after computer failure

A computer failure today at a key air traffic control centre, the second in recent weeks,
caused chaos at UK airports.

The failure, at about 6am, at the West Drayton centre in west London, meant that flight data
normally produced electronically had to be prepared by hand.

"There will inevitably be flight delays," said a spokesman for National Air Traffic Services.

A spokesman for Stansted airport in Essex said: "We are experiencing delays, although some flights are on time. It's a similar air traffic control problem to the one we had a couple of
weeks ago."

A spokesman for Heathrow airport said: "A problem with NATC computers in West Drayton just before 7am meant they had to go on to some sort of manual process.

"This has had a knock-on effect and we are experiencing a handful of delays on departures of up to two hours on both long-haul and domestic flights. Heathrow is still open."

The majority of flights at Manchester airport were grounded from just before 7am. Passengers faced delays of up to three hours, said an airport spokeswoman.

"All our domestic flights to the south of England have been affected along with international
flights," she said.

"Westbound flights are OK but the majority of flights are affected, and planes are waiting for
new slot times, which we anticipate to be between 9.30am and 10am. Most flights are not taking off at the moment."

A spokesman at Gatwick said the computer failure had briefly affected flights leaving the airport, but had not caused significant delays.

"We have had no major disruption. If it had been on a heavy weekend then we might have noticed it, but it did not cause problems," he said.

Today's problem follows a similar incident at West Drayton just before Easter, when a computer failure led to flight delays and cancellations.

These incidents are a further setback for the newly-privatised National Air Traffic Services
(Nats) which has had to receive a £30 million bail-out from the Government after running into
financial difficulties following the events of 11 September.

A group of seven airlines, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, has taken a 46 per
cent stake in Nats. Yesterday, one of these partner airlines, low-cost carrier easyJet, said it was considering writing off its investment.