THE travel plans of thousands of air travellers have been thrown into chaos after flights were severely disrupted following a computer failure at the headquarters of UK air traffic control company Nats.
Initially air traffic management company Eurocontrol announced that there would be no flights at UK airports until 7pm.
But shortly after 4pm Nats said: “UK airspace has not been closed, but airspace capacity has been restricted in order to manage the situation.”
For a time there were no flights able to land or take off at Heathrow or Stansted following the computer glitch which is the latest to hit the Nats centre at Swanwick in Hampshire.
The problem began around in mid-afternoon. To start with Nats said: “We can confirm that a technical problem has been reported at Swanwick air traffic control centre. We apologise for any delays and our incident response team has been mobilised.
“Every possible action is being taken to assist in resolving the situation and to confirm the details. Further information will be released as it becomes available.”
One passenger caught up in the travel chaos was Matt Warren.
He tweeted: “Stuck on the tarmac at Heathrow airport. Air traffic control failures. No flights in or out. “
British Airways said: “We are working hard to look after our customers who have been affected by the air traffic control failure experienced by all airlines at Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports.
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“We anticipate disruption to both departing and arriving flights but will do all we can to minimise any impact.
“We will endeavour to keep our customers informed of the status of their flight but we would urge anyone with a flight booking to check ba.com before leaving for the airport.
“If you do not wish to travel from Heathrow, Gatwick or London City this evening we are offering our customers the opportunity to rebook their flight to a later date or a full refund.”
A Birmingham Airport spokeswoman said the airport remained open. She went on:: “In most cases flights taking off to the north are not affected. Flights going south, some are delayed while some are re-routing.”
She advised passengers to check the status of individual flights.
The state-of-the art centre at Swanwick has been subject to a number of computer glitches since Nats moved there from its old headquarters in West Drayton in west London in the early part of the last decade.
One of the worst problems was a year ago - on Saturday December 7 2013 - when thousands of passengers were left stranded when hundreds of flights were grounded following a technical fault at the Hampshire centre.
At about 4.15pm, Gatwick Airport wrote on Twitter: “Flights are now departing from Gatwick but there are delays due to the Air Traffic Control computer issues.”
An East Midlands Airport spokeswoman said that airport was virtually unaffected.
“We’ve had minor delays, just because they’ve had some restrictions on traffic,” she said, adding only five flights so far had experienced delays.
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