UK airport
UK airport

The BBC’s John Hunt reports from Heathrow where his flight to Berlin has been delayed

Flights are being delayed across the UK and in the Irish Republic because of an air traffic control centre fault.

Affected airports include Heathrow, Stansted, Cardiff, Dublin, and Glasgow.

The National Air Traffic Control Service (Nats) said its Swanwick centre, in Hampshire, was having “difficulty switching from night time to daytime operation”.

The Association of British Travel Agents said it was told problems would persist until at least 14:00 GMT.

Apologising for any delays, Nats added: “Engineers are working to rectify the problem as soon as possible.”

Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Southampton, Luton, London City, Newcastle, Exeter, Bournemouth and other airports have also reported delays and are asking passengers to check with their airlines.

Heathrow had cancelled 60 flights by 09:45 GMT, with these evenly split between arrivals and departures. A spokeswoman said: “Due to a technical issue with air traffic control, flights from many UK airports, including Heathrow, are subject to delay and cancellation.”

A spokesman for Stansted Airport said all of its flights were delayed for up to two hours. Gatwick said 20% of its departures had been delayed, with passengers being warned they may have to wait for “a couple of hours”.

The airline Ryanair has warned there will be “significant flight delays and possible cancellations”.

British Airways said the technical problems had already led to flight cancellations and warned that they “will cause delays to some flights”.

Travel reporter Simon Calder told BBC Breakfast: “It is a pretty grim start to the weekend for air travellers.”

He warned that early morning delays could lead to cancellations later in the day.

He said there were “lots and lots of delays” at Stansted, while Heathrow Airport had “long delays” of up to 40 minutes in departures.

‘Unholy mess’

William Paton, from London, has been delayed at Heathrow. He told the BBC: “Having been on a cancelled flight to Aberdeen from City last night, I was put onto a red eye this morning… and am still on it, with delays of four hours estimated, according to the captain.”

Passenger Daisy McAndrew said she had been caught in the “unholy mess” at Gatwick as she tried to fly to Barcelona for work.

“As ever, staff have been fantastic but they know nothing other than the fact it is going to be a very, very long delay – very frustrating,” Ms McAndrew told Sky News.

“It doesn’t show our air traffic control system or our travel system in a good light.

Compensation for delayed flights

  • In certain circumstances EU travelers can claim back up to ?600 for delayed flights
  • Claims can be made for flights that were delayed up to six years ago
  • Airlines should always provide refreshments after a two-hour delay and accommodation if it the flight is delayed overnight

“I have never heard of an example where every single plane is grounded – it’s quite eerie when I look out of the window to see the tarmac in Gatwick, normally so busy, and also the sky above Gatwick which is normally busy – completely static, there’s nothing moving.”

At Stansted, Alina Kontza’s flight has been delayed for three hours. She told the BBC that many flights were delayed and yet no one had explained to passengers the reason for the delay.

“There’s an elderly couple behind me and they think it’s weather related – they are worried they might get stuck in a storm,” she said.

“I’m in the departure lounge where people are quite aggravated – they don’t know what the problem is. That’s what drives me insane, I’m sitting here on my iPad and I know what the problem is but no one has said anything.”

‘Backlog of planes’

NATS has explained that its Swanwick control centre experienced a technical problem in the early hours of Saturday morning.

It said in a statement: “At night, when it’s quiet, we can combine sectors of airspace. When it gets busy in the daytime we split the sectors out again. The voice communications system is configured to enable this to happen.”

It said the glitch on Saturday morning meant it had not been possible to reconfigure the voice communications system to split out the sectors for the daytime traffic in some areas of the UK airspace.

NATS added: “Engineers are working to rectify the problem as soon as possible but this is resulting in some delays. Safety has not been compromised at any time, and we sincerely apologise for any inconvenience being caused to passengers.”

Independent aviation analyst Chris Yates said: “It’s going to be a day of frustrations and the knock-on effects are going to last for the whole day because of the backlog of planes.

He said that passengers due to arrive at UK airports from overseas could find themselves diverted elsewhere.

“There are contingency plans in place whenever this happens,” he said. “Many of the long-haul flights, coming from China, India, the US and so on, passengers sitting on those planes may find themselves diverted to continental airports.

“But it’s going to be a long wait for them. When the system kicks back in and starts working, there will be a backlog of flights.

Source BBC

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