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Thursday, September 28, 2023

IATA: Flight chaos in Europe could cost airlines £100 million

IATA’s Willie Walsh criticizes the system burdening airlines with over £100 million in costs due to uncontrollable air traffic control breakdown. He urges accountability for disruptions, advocating for rules preventing cost transfer. National Air Traffic Services (Nats) apologizes for chaos. Investigation ongoing into the cause behind 1,000+ flight cancellations, ruling out cyberattack.

Willie Walsh, Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), has expressed his concern over an unjust system that compels airlines to cover substantial costs arising from factors beyond their control. He assessed that the recent air traffic control breakdown is anticipated to incur expenses of approximately “£100 million” ($126.5 million).

He also highlighted that member airlines, burdened by sizable bills, encounter frustration and resentment due to regulations that practically hinder their ability to recover these financial losses.

Walsh, the former CEO of British Airways, emphasized the necessity for the responsible company to bear the financial responsibility for the widespread flight disruptions on Monday. He called for the establishment of protocols to prevent the transfer of these financial burdens onto airlines.

National Air Traffic Services (Nats), the entity accountable for air traffic control in the UK, has issued apologies to affected customers, including those still stranded overseas.

Mr. Walsh argued that it’s “highly unjust” that Nats avoids financial accountability for the issue. He stated, “The impact of cancellations on hundreds of thousands of customers and the subsequent delays for another hundreds of thousands need to be acknowledged. The resulting disruption is indeed substantial. The projected costs run into the tens of millions.”

While it is too early to precisely quantify the extent of the financial implications for airlines due to the disruption, Walsh estimated that it would approach “£100 million.”

Walsh urged the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to introduce regulations requiring Nats to assume the financial burden for such incidents, thereby preventing the shifting of these costs to airlines.

The core of this predicament is a preventable failure, and Nats should be held accountable for this,” he asserted.

The CAA is presently conducting an investigation into the disruption, which resulted in over 1,000 flight cancellations spanning multiple days.

The UK government has ruled out the possibility of a cyberattack being the root cause of the issue.

According to reports, an erroneous input from a French airline into the air traffic control system could have instigated the shutdown. This led to the need for manual data input, resulting in extensive delays and a surge in flight cancellations.

Walsh expressed his disbelief that a single incorrect data entry could trigger a complete system collapse. He contended that the system’s design should have included safeguards against accepting inaccurate data.

Martin Rolfe, CEO of Nats, confirmed that preliminary investigations indicate the failure was related to certain flight data the company received. He extended apologies to passengers impacted by the disruption.

The company’s primary and backup systems reacted by suspending automatic processing, Rolfe added.

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