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Data issue caused 2,000 flight cancellations and widespread disruption

Written by Thu 31 Aug 2023

Incoming flight data caused widespread flight disruption leaving thousands stranded abroad, say NATS (formerly National Air Traffic Services)

The technical issue arose after NATS’ systems failed to process an incoming flight plan. Manual processing was resorted to after its primary and backup systems suspended automatic processing of flight plans.

Due to the volume constraints, traffic flow restrictions were put in place and the problem was isolated.

“[This was] to ensure that no incorrect safety-related information could be presented to an air traffic controller or impact the rest of the air traffic system,” said Martin Rolfe, CEO of NATS.

The technical issue was identified and remedied, with systems returned to normal to support airline and airport operations as they recover from the flight disruption. The Department for Transport approved night flying to all UK airports that it regulates to alleviate the backlog.

“I would like to apologise for our technical failure yesterday. While we resolved the problem quickly, I am very conscious that the knock-on effects at such a busy time of year are still being felt by many people travelling in and out of the UK,” added Rolfe.

The incident will be investigated by the Civil Aviation Authority. A preliminary report is expected to be provided to Transport Secretary Mark Harper and its conclusion made public.

“There are no indications that this was a cyberattack,” said Rolfe.

In August, NATS signed a seven-year network and cybersecurity deal with BT to ‘keep the skies safe’ and support air traffic operations in the UK.

BT will take responsibility for the consolidation and modernisation of NATS’ critical data network as well as manage digital networking and cybersecurity across its sites.

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Written by Thu 31 Aug 2023

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