Review of August air traffic control meltdown at Hampshire-based Nats will consider cost to airlines

Nats controls the majority of British airspace. Credit: ITV Meridian

An independent review into the August bank holiday air traffic control (ATC) meltdown at Hampshire-based Nats will consider the cost to airlines, regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said.

There was major disruption to flights across UK airports, including Gatwick and Heathrow, on August 28 after ATC provider National Air Traffic Services (Nats) suffered a technical glitch while processing a flight plan.

The combined cost to airlines in providing refunds, re-bookings, hotel rooms and refreshments to affected passengers has been estimated at around £100 million.

Airlines, including budget operator Ryanair, have called for Nats to be liable for the cost of disruption it causes. The CAA said its review will consider “airline and airport costs”.

It will look at the causes, response and lessons for the future from the August incident.

The Nats control room in Swanwick, Hampshire. Credit: ITV Meridian

Last month, Gatwick Airport's biggest operator, Easyjet, said Nats has “let down customers all summer”.

easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: "Persistent staff shortages at Nats have plagued the industry and repeatedly let down customers all summer, having caused more than a month’s worth of disruption.

“This cannot be allowed to continue.

“Immediate action must be taken to fix the staffing shortages now while a more wide-ranging review examines broader issues to ensure Nats delivers robust services to passengers now and in the future.”

At the time Nats said: "Nats said in a statement: “We are working closely with Gatwick Airport Ltd to build resilience in the airport’s control tower to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum.

“New air traffic controllers have been recruited since last summer, increasing our presence by 17%, and others are due to start after completing their training, in line with the agreed plan when Nats took over the contract last October.”

Gatwick is the UK’s second busiest airport. Credit: Nick Ansell/PA

The inquiry will be led by Jeff Halliwell, who has served as a chief executive and non-executive director in roles across the private and public sector.

He previously chaired airport slot coordinator Airport Coordination Limited as well as the Heathrow Consumer Challenge Board which acts as an independent advisory body.

He also chaired passenger watchdog Transport Focus.

A final report into the ATC failure with recommendations will be provided to the CAA and the Secretary of State for Transport before publication.

CAA joint-interim chief executive Rob Bishton said: “The events of the 28 August bank holiday had a significant impact on many passengers.

“That’s why we’ve launched this independent review to understand what happened and learn lessons for the future.

“We have appointed Jeff Halliwell, who will be supported by two further panel members, to bring a range of expertise to help determine and consider any recommendations to benefit both consumers and the wider aviation industry.”

Mr Halliwell said: “This event had a significant impact on many passengers, businesses and the aviation industry and it is clear lessons need to be learnt.

“I am looking forward to working with industry and passengers to tackle this review to really understand how the incident occurred, how it was managed and identify any recommendations.”

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