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Major UK Air Traffic Disruption Blamed on Software Issue

Major UK Air Traffic Disruption Blamed on Software Issue

Major UK Air Traffic Disruption Blamed on Software Issue

Major UK Air Traffic Disruption Blamed on Software Issue

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  • Error confused two distant geographical checkpoints.
  • Civil Aviation Authority to review the incident.
  • NATS system identified duplicate waypoints causing the issue.
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The UK experienced its worst air-traffic disruption in a decade due to an anomaly in the airspace manager’s software system. This technical issue resulted in the confusion of two geographical checkpoints separated by approximately 4,000 nautical miles. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority has announced its intention to review the incident, which led to numerous flight cancellations and delays when an airline’s flight plan was not processed correctly.

The glitch prompted the shutdown of the software system operated by NATS (formerly known as National Air Traffic Services) for safety reasons. As a consequence, air-traffic personnel had to manually input flight plans, significantly reducing the capacity for processing air traffic. The event, which occurred on August 28, created chaos for airlines and airports in the UK, leaving planes in the wrong positions and passengers stranded. Aviation analytics firm Cirium reported that nearly 800 flights departing from UK airports were canceled, with a similar number of arrivals affected.

NATS’s preliminary report revealed that on the day of the incident, an airline submitted a flight plan through UK airspace. While the flight plan itself was not flawed, it disrupted the system because the NATS software received duplicate identities for two distinct map points. Although efforts had been made to eliminate duplicate waypoints globally, some remained, as NATS CEO Martin Rolfe explained.

In this particular case, the NATS system correctly identified the point at which the aircraft was supposed to enter UK airspace. However, the exit point had a duplicate name that coincided with a different location on the map, thousands of nautical miles away. NATS software recognized this geographical inconsistency.

When the primary system failed to locate the exit point, the backup system came into play but encountered the same issue. This ultimately led to the shutdown of NATS’ software for safety reasons, as outlined in the report.

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NATS has stated that the software manufacturer will update the system to prevent it from shutting down under similar circumstances in the future. This updated software is expected to be implemented in the coming days following testing. In the interim, a temporary solution has been implemented to prevent a recurrence of the issue, according to NATS.

“We’ve never seen this set of circumstances before,” commented NATS CEO Martin Rolfe on the incident, highlighting the unprecedented nature of the technical glitch.

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