News Item

A major glitch at Swanwick

Air traffic throughout the UK was disrupted by a single-point-of-failure computer problem at the air traffic control centre.

The failure, lasting for about one hour during the early afternoon of 12 December, is reported to have been a technical fault with the flight data computer system - not a power failure as first speculated.

The huge impact on air traffic is largely due to the fact that NATS's Swanwick centre is used not only for all upper level air traffic over most of the UK, but also as the 'Approach' control for Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City airports. These airports have only 'Local' (immediately before landing or after take-off) and ground movement services on their own airfields.

NATS quickly confirmed that the system had been restored to full operational capability - and that a thorough investigation was continuing to identify the root cause. But the disruption was immense on a Friday afternoon and the knock-on effect for airlines continues throughout the weekend.

Swanwick controls ~200,000 square miles of airspace above England and Wales and employs about 1,300 controllers, who handle ~5,000 flights per day. It was opened in 2002.

Although there are also military controllers at Swanwick, the RAF is reported to have confirmed that the UK military was unaffected.

It will be interesting to see the result of the investigation into how what appears to be a single-point-of-failure could have been built into such a vital facility.

Details at the NATS link below . .

  • 13 December 2014
  • RIN

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