Investment lesson of air traffic failure

Investment lesson of air traffic failure

Following the air traffic control systems failure at West Drayton early this morning, (Thursday) and speaking on behalf of 3,500 air traffic controllers and engineers, Prospect negotiator David Luxton said:

"This demonstrates the need to enable National Air Traffic Services (NATS) to continue its programme of renewing the air traffic control system, particularly during the next five years of NATS’ investment programme.

"It is also vital that NATS ensures it continues to have a highly-trained and well-motivated workforce. They face a huge upheaval as moves to upgrade and combine existing air traffic control centres are put in place, along with the operational changes which have already been made."

This morning’s failure followed a planned shutdown of the national airspace system that controls the flight planning information for the UK ATC system. It was part of normal systems testing and was brought back on line at 3.20am, but found to be unstable.

A decision was taken to place the system and controller procedures under manual control. These are proven procedures for continuing to provide air traffic control but which require a substantial reduction in the number of aircraft that can be handled. At no point were there any safety implications during this period.

"Reliance on the national airspace system will gradually be reduced during NATS’ planned investment programme, starting with a new distributed flight data processing system at the Prestwick Centre in 2008 and ending with the next Swanwick system upgrade, in 2011," said Luxton.

As part of the ATC investment programme, operations at West Drayton will be moved to the new centre at Swanwick, the Manchester centre will move to a new site to be built in Prestwick, Scotland and the engineering, support and headquarters facilities will be centralised at a new base in Southampton.