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Martin Rolfe has apologised to those affected by flight disruption
By Katy Austin & Sam Hancock
BBC News

The flight chaos caused by a data processing glitch should not happen again, the head of National Air Traffic Services has said.

Martin Rolfe told the BBC that measures were in place to protect against the “incredibly rare” system failure which has left hundreds of flights cancelled.

“If that happens again, we can resolve it very, very quickly,” he said.

Passengers have been left stranded abroad and in the UK, and the backlog is expected to cause continued delays.

Explaining what happened in detail, Mr Rolfe said Nats received millions of flight plans – which document the planned movements of aircraft – every year.

But on Monday, it received data that it could not process.

He said the system was designed to “fail safely” if this happened, to make sure erroneous information could not be passed on to air traffic controllers.

This caused Nats to revert to a manual system – meaning fewer flights could be handled.

Mr Rolfe apologised to those affected, insisting he was confident the situation would not arise in the same way again.

“We understand the way the system didn’t handle the data… the way it failed, if you like,” he said.

He added that procedures had already been put in place to make sure the error could be solved quickly were it to arise again.

Nats remedied the fault around three hours after announcing it just before midday on Monday, but widespread disruption had already occurred in that time.

The incident will be investigated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Nats has confirmed there were no signs the failure was caused by a cyber-attack.

After chairing a meeting between Nats, the CAA, airlines, airports, trade bodies and Border Force, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said on Tuesday that knock-on effects of the disruption were likely to continue over the coming days.

He advised anyone due to travel in that time to check with airlines before heading to the airport.

In its latest statement, EasyJet offered to put on extra flights to help bring people back to the UK. The boss of Ryanair, meanwhile, said it had had to cancel about 250 flights already, affecting around 40,000 passengers.

One such passenger, Sarah Skellern, told BBC News she and her family were forced to sleep on the floor of Palma de Mallorca Airport, Spain, after waiting on a Jet2 aircraft for six hours before it was cancelled.

Mrs Skellern, from near Preston, Lancashire, described “absolute chaos” at Palma de Mallorca Airport. She and her family eventually got a flight home the next day.

Analysis of flight data websites showed at least 281 flights – including departures and arrivals – were cancelled on Tuesday at the UK’s six busiest airports.

This consisted of 75 at Gatwick, 74 at Heathrow, 63 at Manchester, 28 at Stansted, 23 at Luton and 18 at Edinburgh.

Watch: The day UK air traffic control went down… in 71 seconds

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