Air traffic control boss ‘must forfeit bonuses’

Passengers wait at Heathrow while a computer fault disrupts flights across the UK. Picture: PA

Passengers wait at Heathrow while a computer fault disrupts flights across the UK. Picture: PA

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An MP has called for bonuses to be “stripped” from a top executive after an unprecedented systems failure at the UK’s national air traffic control centre.

The problem, involving computer code written a quarter of a century ago, was responsible for widespread disruption at British airports.

Richard Deakin, chief executive of Nats, the company responsible for controlling British airspace, said the software glitch was “buried” among millions of lines of code at the site in Swanwick, Hampshire.

Paul Flynn, a Labour MP, spoke out about Mr Deakin’s role. He said: “I hope after the chaos, which was dreadful, though a rare event, he will have his bonuses stripped from him.”

Mr Deakin reportedly earns more than £1 million after receiving a 45 per cent pay rise this year.

Meanwhile, Nats was reported to have been warned about the quality of its plans to deal with technical failures.

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Nats is understood to have submitted a report to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) earlier this year following major disruption caused by a communications problem last December.

The CAA said that “themes on avoiding a recurrence” were a “good first step but lack detail and clarity”.

Passengers faced travel chaos as dozens of flights at airports around the UK were disrupted or cancelled on Friday and Saturday.

About 40 flights at Heathrow were cancelled before 9:30am, after which the airport said normal service was resumed.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin described the disruption as unacceptable, and MP Louise Ellman, chairwoman of the Commons transport committee, said Mr McLoughlin would be asked about the incident when he appears before the panel today.

Mr Deakin said: “The problem was when we had additional terminals brought into use and we had a software problem that we haven’t seen before, which resulted in the computer which looks after the flight plans effectively going offline.

“The good news is, of course, that everything came back online 45 minutes later, the back-up plans went into action as they should have done, so everything performed normally there, the skies were kept safe.

“Unfortunately, there was reduced capacity and I would just like to reiterate our apology that we have made to passengers, and indeed to airlines and airport customers, for the disruption that was caused.”

Mr Deakin added that it was a “very unusual event” which had not occurred previously.

He said: “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.”

Mr Deakin said the problem had been “effectively rectified”, and gave assurances that it would not reoccur.

He conceded that some of their systems were “fairly elderly”, adding: “The system we had a problem with has code written in the early ’90s.”

Business Secretary Vince Cable suggested Nats was using “ancient” computer systems after “skimping” on investment.

Airports including Aberdeen and Edinburgh were affected by knock-on effects of the problem.

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