18 May 2002
Flight chaos as computers fail at home and abroad
By Barrie Clement Transport
It was the third time in two
months that British airspace was hit by software problems, causing the
worst disruption yet. Engineers fixed the glitch at Swanwick, but services
were then hit by problems at the European Flight Co-ordination Centre
The system finally returned
to full capacity shortly before 11.20am, after five hours of chaos
As the British air traffic
control system returned to normal Brussels crashed, creating
Changes to the system at Swanwick
to cater for alterations in French airspace had been completed overnight,
but when National Air
Traffic Services (NATS) attempted to switch on more workstations to
cope with the increased day-time workload, the problem was discovered.
Previous computer glitches
affected the old centre at West Drayton in March and April, the
The Labour MP Martin Salter, a former Heathrow union official, told the BBC's World at One: "It is a pretty dismal set of circumstances.
"We have got a shiny new computer suite, provided by the private sector by Lockheed, the very firm that had the nerve to bid for running the whole of NATS and these things go down after only a few months' operation. Thank goodness for the professionalism and dedication of the air traffic controllers themselves.
"There's a huge question
mark over just how valuable private sector involvement has been in
The shadow transport minister Eric Pickles said he did not believe safety was compromised. But he added: "I think NATS needs to have a proper reassessment of its software. This is three times in two months and it is three times too many.
"Mr Byers was warned and understands the problem, but I dare say that if you were stuck at Heathrow or Gatwick and told 'Don't worry, Mr Byers is in charge', it would come as little comfort."
A spokesman at the Department of Transport said: "Clearly we regret any delay to passengers but this is an operational matter for NATS."