UK CAA Releases Interim Report on Air Traffic Control Fail

By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 6 Min Read
6 Min Read
NATS Air Traffic Controllers.
Photo Credit: NATS.

An interim report, prepared by an Independent Review Panel into the air traffic control failure on 28 August 2023, has been published by the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

The review into the incident was set up by the regulator following the incident, with an Independent Panel chaired by Jeff Halliwell beginning its inquiry in October 2023.

The NATS air traffic control failure significantly impacted over 700,000 passengers and this interim report sheds light on the findings and progress made thus far.

Impact of the Incident

The events of 28 August 2023 led to widespread disruptions, affecting passengers with cancellations, long delays exceeding 3 hours, and shorter delays.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority initiated an inquiry following the incident, with Jeff Halliwell leading an Independent Panel to investigate.

Impact on Passengers

Overall, the UK regulator estimates that over 700,000 passengers were impacted by the widespread ATC disruption.

  • Cancellations: Over 300,000 passengers faced flight cancellations, disrupting travel plans and causing inconvenience.
  • Long Delays: Approximately 95,000 passengers experienced delays exceeding 3 hours, leading to frustration and inconvenience.
  • Short Delays: A further 300,000 passengers encountered shorter delays, impacting their schedules.
Taken at Manchester International UK

Progress and Findings

The Independent Panel, chaired by Jeff Halliwell, has made significant progress in understanding the root causes of the failure. While some aspects have been addressed, other factors necessitate further investigation.

National Air Traffic Services (NATS) has indicated that it has acted to address a number of findings arising from its own internal investigation.

The organisation’s main purpose is to deliver a safe air traffic control system in the UK. Among other things, NATS must also take all reasonable steps to secure that the demand for air traffic services is met.

Addressing Root Causes

In its interim report, the Panel acknowledges progress in identifying the cause of the failure. However, it highlights the need for more evidence and investigation into various aspects. These include communication protocols, investment incentives, and system response.

Effective communication between NATS, aviation stakeholders, and consumers emerged as a critical aspect requiring scrutiny.

The report emphasizes the need for robust communication protocols to mitigate future incidents.

The interim report underscores the importance of evaluating the regulatory framework underpinning the aviation sector.

It aims to identify gaps and propose reforms to enhance system resilience and accountability.

The Panel has engaged with a diverse range of stakeholders to gather insights and perspectives. This collaborative approach ensures that the final report reflects comprehensive analysis and recommendations.

UK Air Traffic Controllers at monitors.
Photo Credit: UK Civil Aviation Authority

Next Steps

As the investigation progresses, the Independent Panel remains committed to exploring additional lines of inquiry.

The final report, expected later this year, will encapsulate comprehensive findings and recommendations.

Jeff Halliwell, Chair of the Independent Review Panel emphasizes the Panel’s dedication to producing effective recommendations. By delving deeper into systemic issues, the aim is to foster continuous improvement in the aviation sector.

“In order to produce effective recommendations, the Panel has further lines of enquiry it is exploring in order to build a better understanding of how the aviation system can improve,” he said.

Taken at Manchester International UK

CAA Perspective

Rob Bishton, Chief Executive of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, underscores the significance of the air traffic control system. The interim report serves as a roadmap for understanding past shortcomings.

“The UK Air Traffic Control system is vital to the safe and efficient management of millions of air journeys each year.”

“This interim report helps with the understanding of what went wrong, what worked well in response to this, and importantly what action can be taken to improve the UK’s aviation system for the future.”

Bishton extended gratitude to the Panel for its diligent work and anticipates the insights gleaned from the final report.

Collaborative efforts between regulatory bodies and industry stakeholders are paramount in shaping a more robust aviation system.

Airlines UK Response

Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers,echoes the sentiment of the industry in response to the interim report.

He emphasizes the need for enhanced resilience planning to prevent future catastrophic failures. Airlines UK supports further investigation and recommendations to bolster infrastructure resilience.

Alderslade’s statement underscores the industry’s commitment to learning from past incidents and implementing necessary reforms.

The Independent Review of NATS (En Route) Plc’s Flight Planning System Failure Interim Report can be found on the UK Civil Aviation Authority website.


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By Len Varley Assistant Editor
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Now the Assistant Editor with AviationSource, I have almost 40 years' experience in aviation, starting in Australian flight crew and training. I worked as CFI/Chief Pilot with 2 organisations and was also a CASA approved testing officer and aeronautics lecturer. This led to components procurement for civil operators and the RAAF, and then maintenance programming with a global airborne geo-survey operator.