London air traffic control system goes dark causes significant delays

Posted on Dec 17, 2014

The air traffic system that helps controllers manage the large number of flights above the city of London went down due to a technical failure on December 12, delaying or diverting hundreds if not thousands of flights. The outage was repaired relatively quickly, according to CNN, and the traffic control system was expected to be back to full capacity in a matter of hours. Because of time zone differences, the downtime came during the middle of the day in the London area, meaning business and pleasure travelers alike weren't able to land in the city. The company in charge of managing London's airspace, NATS, told CNN some flights were diverted to France's Charles du Gaulle Airport and other locations.

A major travel problem
Disruption of air traffic control software is problematic from both travel and safety standpoints. There weren't any accidents in the London area due to the outage, good news considering the sheer volume of air traffic that passes through the region. The major airport in London, Heathrow, is the third-busiest in the world according to CNN, and four other airports in the metropolitan area were also affected by the outage. Other airports in southern England as well as Wales also had to divert or delay incoming flights because of the software failure.

Processes slowly being restored
USA Today reported that flight restrictions remained in place for approximately eight hours after the software problems were cleared up, as the air traffic control system returned to full capacity. That delay is certainly better than a complete closure of air space, but it still leaves many travelers in a state of flux as they try to reach their final destinations. Because Heathrow is the closest major European airport in relation to the U.S., international travel was also impacted. British Airways, which uses Heathrow as a major hub, is working with customers to issue refunds and correct travel plans.

Businesses have to be aware
As far as corporate travel is concerned, the incident in London displays the need for companies to have plans in place for their duty of care obligations. Not only do employees who may be potentially stranded or diverted have to be taken care of and directed toward next steps for reaching their final destinations, but the people they're traveling to meet with need to be notified of the delay as well.

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