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The Christmas present that could cause a tragedy

Radio controlled drones are the ultimate boy's toy and, despite costing anything from hundreds to thousands of pounds, shops are reporting huge sales this Christmas.

But a new report shows how disaster was narrowly avoided earlier this year when a drone flew within 20 feet of a passenger plane landing at Heathrow.

It's prompted fresh warnings of the dangers of using drones. But, as Emma Wilkinson reports many people say they're great fun - when used responsibly.

Independent inquiry into Friday's airport chaos

The Government has ordered an independent inquiry after Friday's air traffic control failure left hundreds of thousands of travellers stranded or delayed.

The Transport Minister said the problems - at the National Air Traffic Control Centre in Swanwick, in Hampshire - must never be repeated. The widespread chaos has been blamed on a computer problem.

Experts say had the failure happened this coming week, with the Christmas getaway, the problems could have been far more severe.

Gatwick and Heathrow were worst hit - but dozens of smaller airports across the South East were also closed for a time. Juliette Fletcher reports

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NATS boss should be "stripped of bonus" says MP

Queues at Heathrow during Friday's disruption Credit: PA

An MP has called for bonuses to be "stripped" from a top boss 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 told The Sunday Times: "I hope after the chaos, which was dreadful, though a rare event, he will have his bonuses stripped from him."

Mr Deakin earns more than £1 million after receiving a 45% pay rise this year, according to The Sunday Times.

NATS Headquarters at Swanwick in Hampshire Credit: PA

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

The Independent on Sunday said Nats gave the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) a report earlier this year following major disruption caused by a communications problem last December.

The CAA said "themes on avoiding a recurrence" were a "good first step but lack detail and clarity", the newspaper reported.

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

About 40 flights at Heathrow were cancelled before 9.30am, after which the airport said normal service was resumed.

Queues at Heathrow on Friday Credit: PA

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin described the disruption as unacceptable, and MP Louise Ellman, chairwoman of the Transport Committee, said Mr McLoughlin will be asked about the incident when he appears before the panel on Monday.

'Unprecedented' failure sparked airport chaos

Passengers stranded at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport yesterday Credit: Steve Parsons/PA Wire/Press Association Image

The chaos that hit British airports yesterday was sparked by an unprecedented systems failure, it was disclosed today.

Air traffic control company Nats has given its first detailed explanation of the problem at its national centre in Swanwick, Hampshire, that saw dozens of flights cancelled and delayed.

It said: 'Swanwick controller workstations provide a number of tools and services to the controller to enable them to safely control a high volume of air traffic.

'In normal operations the number of workstations in use versus in standby fluctuates with the demands of the traffic being controlled.

'In this instance a transition between the two states caused a failure in the system which has not been seen before. The failure meant that the controllers were unable to access all of the data regarding individual flight plans which significantly increases their workload.

'Our priority is to maintain a safe operation for the flying public; consequently when the failure occurred we immediately took steps to reduce the traffic into and out of the UK network.

'The controllers had a full radar picture and full communications with all aircraft at all times during the incident and at no time was safety compromised in any way.'

Nats said it understood the problem was connected to a number of workstations 'in a certain state' combined with the number of 'air space sectors' open.

Officials restricted air space in response to the issue, leaving flights at some airports grounded yesterday.

Nats declared that its systems were back to full operational capacity last night but a knock-on effect has been seen at airports today.

Heathrow said 38 flights had been cancelled before 9.30am.

In a statement, the airport said: 'Following yesterday's technical problem at the Nats air traffic control centre in Swanwick, operations have started up well at Heathrow on what is a very busy day.

'There will, though, be cancellations to some flights because aircraft and crew are out of position.

'Passengers due to depart today should check the status of their flight with their airline before travelling to Heathrow. We are very sorry for the disruption to passengers' journeys.'

Gatwick reported that there had been 16 cancellations and seven diversions of inbound flights yesterday but said the airport was running normally today.

A British Airways spokeswoman said: 'We've been working hard to look after our customers following the air traffic control system failure, yesterday.

'We don't expect to see any further significant disruption to our flights, for the remainder of the day.'

Airports as far north as Aberdeen and Edinburgh were also affected by the computer problem. Other airports that reported delays yesterday afternoon included Manchester, Stansted and Luton.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has described the disruption as unacceptable.

Airport disruption 'not been seen before'

People wait at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport Credit: Steve Parsons/PA Wire/Press Association Images

The disruption at airports across Britain yesterday was caused by a system failure 'which has not been seen before', air traffic control company Nats said today.

Dozens of flights were cancelled and many others delayed after a computer failure at Nats' company headquarters at Swanwick, Hampshire, yesterday afternoon.

In a statement this afternoon, Nats said: 'Swanwick controller workstations provide a number of tools and services to the controller to enable them to safely control a high volume of air traffic. In normal operations the number of workstations in use versus in standby fluctuates with the demands of the traffic being controlled.

'In this instance a transition between the two states caused a failure in the system which has not been seen before. The failure meant that the controllers were unable to access all of the data regarding individual flight plans which significantly increases their workload.

'Our priority is to maintain a safe operation for the flying public; consequently when the failure occurred we immediately took steps to reduce the traffic into and out of the UK network. The controllers had a full radar picture and full communications with all aircraft at all times during the incident and at no time was safety compromised in any way.'

A spokesman for Heathrow said 38 flights were cancelled before 9.30am today 'as a knock on from yesterday'.

Airports returning to normal after computer failure

Passangers stand in line waiting to check in at Heathrow airport, Credit: Marc SchÀfer/DPA/Press Association Images

The chaos that hit UK airports is clearing - but 38 flights have been cancelled at Heathrow this morning.

While air traffic control company Nats declared its systems are back to full operational capacity, the flight mayhem at some of the nation's busiest thoroughfares could still be a reality for some passengers.

Dozens of flights were cancelled and many others delayed after a computer failure at Nats' company headquarters at Swanwick, Hampshire, yesterday afternoon.

A spokesman for Heathrow said 38 flights are cancelled before 9.30am today 'as a knock on from yesterday'.

Nats said at about 8pm last night: 'Following a technical fault with the flight data system used by air traffic controllers at Swanwick, Nats can confirm that the system has been restored to full operational capability and a thorough investigation is continuing to identify the root cause.

'Although operational restrictions applied during the failure have been lifted, it will take time for flight operations across the UK to fully recover so passengers should contact their airline for the status of their flight. We apologise for the impact that this issue has had, and the delays and inconvenience caused.'

The company has ruled out a power outage as the source of the glitch at Nats' state-of-the-art £700 million centre.

Airports as far north as Aberdeen and Edinburgh were affected by the computer problem. Other airports that reported delays yesterday afternoon included Manchester, Stansted and Luton.

Budget flier EasyJet said last night: 'EasyJet has had to cancel 10 flights to and from London Gatwick, however all aircraft which were earlier diverted have all now continued to their original destinations. In addition, it is likely that other flights to and from the south of the UK will suffer delays this evening.'

The airline said it had cancelled two Gatwick-bound flights scheduled for today.

Gatwick Airport said yesterday evening: "Some cancellations should be expected and passengers are advised to contact their airline for the latest flight information.

'All departing flights were affected for a period but the situation is improving and we (are) hoping to restore a near normal service later this evening.'

At Heathrow, a spokesman said yesterday there had been 70 cancellations out of about 1,300 scheduled flights. 'They're coming back to normal now,' he said.

The airport put extra staff on duty and were due to be open later than usual to try to get stranded passengers in the air.

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Air traffic computer systems "are very old"

Professor Martyn Thomas, visiting professor of Software Engineering at the University of Oxford reviewed the technical changes made in response to a few computer failures in the early 2000s.

He said today: "Some of Nats' computer systems are very old - the National Airspace System that performs flight data processing is software that dates from the 1960s.

"Interfacing new systems to this old software can create difficulties.

"Nats has an outstanding safety record. They won't have compromised safety, which always takes priority over delays.

"But delays were inevitable once the controllers lost the support of their computer-based tools, because without the tools the controllers cannot handle as many simultaneous aircraft."

Air traffic failure was "not due to a power outage"

NATS has said that again apologised for any delays and the inconvenience that the air traffic failure may have caused.

It added: "We are investigating the cause of this fault but can confirm that contrary to some reports, it was not due to a power outage.

"Further information will be released as it becomes available."

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