Chaos in British Airports Caused by One-in-15-Million Probability Error
Last week, massive disruptions in the operations of British airports were attributed to an error with a probability estimated at "one in 15 million." On August 28th, nearly 1,500 flights to and from the UK were canceled due to a system malfunction, as reported by The Independent.
Initial findings revealed that a computer glitch occurred when two flight markers with identical names appeared in a single flight plan, despite having different destinations. This led to the system freezing, preventing it from making flight route decisions and alerting controllers about a critical safety issue.
In a previous report submitted to Transport Minister Mark Harper, the National Air Traffic Service (NATS) did not specify the flight route that triggered the chaos but indicated that the aircraft was scheduled to enter UK airspace during an 11-hour journey.
Martin Rolfe, the head of NATS, stated, "This error was indeed highly improbable, at one in 15 million. Throughout our history of handling 15 million flight plans, incidents like this have never occurred." He emphasized that additional measures would be taken to prevent similar situations in the future.
The subsequent shift to manual flight plan processing resulted in a significant reduction in their average processing rate, dropping from approximately 400 per hour to just 60. On that day, over a quarter of flights were canceled, affecting around 250,000 passengers. Flight cancellations continued for two more days due to various organizational issues and airport overcrowding.
Airlines remain dissatisfied with the explanations and demand a detailed analysis of NATS systems and compensation for potential losses resulting from the canceled flights, as well as compensation for affected passengers. The total losses for airlines and passenger compensation could reach $126 million.
As reported, some passengers spent several hours on aircraft at the runway, awaiting resolution by experts. The consequences of this disruption also impacted the operations of London's largest airport for the following day.