Britain’s government on Tuesday ordered a review after the country’s air traffic control system suffered its worst disruption in almost 10 years, stranding thousands of passengers.
Flights departing and arriving in the UK continued to be cancelled, one day after air traffic control systems were temporarily hit by a technical fault.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said there would be an independent review into the worst incident of its kind for “nearly a decade” that is expected to last well into the week.
“This was a technical fault. We do not think this was a cybersecurity incident,” he told GB News.
The last Monday of August — a public holiday in England, Wales and Northern Ireland — traditionally sees large numbers of passengers returning from summer vacations.
“I know people will be enormously frustrated by the disruption that’s impacting them,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told British broadcasters.
“Thankfully things like this are rare and the issue itself was fixed in a matter of hours, but the disruption obviously is continuing and will last for a little while longer.”
The National Air Traffic Services (NATS) said it “identified and remedied” a technical issue which forced it to impose traffic flow restrictions.
NATS said the issue meant flight plans had to be processed manually, while it indicated to AFP that hundreds of flights had been affected and that it would take “several days” for the situation to return to normal.
London’s main airports were the worst hit, with Heathrow and Gatwick cancelling dozens of flights Tuesday.
British Airways was the worst affected airline.
Aviation analytics company Cirium said 790 departures and 785 arrivals were cancelled across all UK airports on Monday.
That was equivalent to just over one quarter of planned flights, dealing a blow to the sector following its recent strong recovery from the Covid shutdown.
The boss of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, said the no-frills carrier had to cancel about 250 flights, affecting some 40,000 passengers.
“Last night (Monday) we had 20 aircraft that couldn’t get back to their home bases so they’re out of place for today,” he said from Dublin.
“Today, unfortunately, it looks like we’re going to cancel about another 70 flights,” he added, hoping that the situation would return to normal by Wednesday.
At Heathrow, passengers voiced frustration at the delays, which also saw planes diverted, adding hours to journey times.
George McHugh returned from a weekend wedding in Spain on Tuesday morning but his friends were still stuck in Madrid after being due to fly back on Monday.
“Once they got to the airport it was absolute chaos, everything was cancelled,” he told AFP. “So we were stuck up in hotels and things like that.
“I’m probably just lucky that I got there this morning instead of yesterday when it all happened,” he added.
On social media, angry passengers said airlines could have done better in providing support and communicating with passengers.
Rory Boland, travel editor at consumer advice publication Which?, said carriers were obliged to offer “timely rerouting” or provide overnight accommodation.