UK CAA to launch review of NATS technical failure

UK Air Traffic Controllers at monitors.
Photo Credit: UK Civil Aviation Authority
Len Varley - Assistant Editor 6 Min Read
6 Min Read

The UK Civil Aviation Authority is to launch an independent review into the technical issue NATS faced on Monday 28 August that saw hundreds of flights delayed and cancelled.   

NATS’ recently issued preliminary technical report sets out the causes of the issue and actions taken to rectify and mitigate the effects.

It found the incident occurred due to an anomaly that forced the system to stop processing flight plans. The system was closed to maintain safety and required manual operation to continue service.

On Monday, August 28th, 2023, the UK’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS) faced a significant technical issue that disrupted hundreds of flights, causing delays and cancellations.

This incident has prompted the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to launch an independent review, aiming to shed light on the root causes, response, and potential breaches of statutory and licensing obligations.

The NATS Technical Issue


On 28th August 2023, significant disruption was experienced across UK airspace following an incident affecting part of the technical infrastructure that supports NATS’ safe controlling of aircraft.

Consequently, the reduced levels of flights that resulted from the measures needed to maintain safety
due to the technical incident caused significant disruption to the UK aviation system.

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According to their preliminary technical report, NATS state that the issue stemmed from an anomaly within their systems, which forced the cessation of flight plan processing.

As a precautionary safety measure, the system was temporarily shut down, requiring manual intervention to continue providing air traffic control services.

Photo: Manchester International UK

Scale of Flight Disruptions


According to the NATS preliminary report, it is not yet clear exactly how many flights were cancelled by airlines; however it is likely that the number exceeds 1,500 for Monday 28th August, with more cancelled on Tuesday 29th August as the airlines strived to recover their schedules. T

This number is in addition to the delays to flights on 28th August; of the 5,500 flights that did operate in UK airspace around 575 were delayed as a result of the incident.

The scale of the disruption caused by this technical issue was significant, with many passengers experiencing lengthy delays and, in some cases, waiting for several days to secure alternative flights.

Airlines, cognizant of their obligations to passengers, worked tirelessly to provide solutions and bring affected travellers home as swiftly as possible.

UK Civil Aviation Authority Response


The UK Civil Aviation Authority has now moved to evaluate the broader implications of this technical failure.

Their primary objective will be to assess how NATS responded to the incident and whether any statutory or licensing obligations were breached in the process.

Beyond addressing the immediate concerns related to the incident, the independent review aims to extract valuable lessons for the future.

These insights are intended to benefit both consumers and the aviation industry at large, ensuring that similar disruptions can be prevented or more effectively managed.

CAA Statement


Rob Bishton, Joint-Interim Chief Executive at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, underscored these concerns, saying: “Millions of passengers every year rely on air traffic control to work smoothly and safely.”

“The initial report by NATS raises several important questions and as the regulator we want to make sure these are answered for passengers and industry.”

“If there is evidence to suggest NATS may have breached its statutory and licensing obligations we will consider whether any further action is necessary.”

Statement by Transport Secretary


Also responding to NATS’ preliminary report into the air traffic control technical failure on Monday 28 August, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said:

“I welcome NATS’ preliminary report outlining the facts of last week’s air traffic control technical failure – particularly the confirmation that there were no safety issues as a result.”

“I also welcome the CAA’s announcement of an independent review to dig deeper into this event and understand whether there are any further steps to be taken to improve the resilience of the air traffic control system.

“Thousands of passengers faced disruption as a result of the failure, with over 1500 flights cancelled and hundreds more delayed. I once again want to echo NATS’s apology to those who were caught up in it, with a technical fix now identified to ensure that such an incident does not recur.

“I will chair a further meeting between NATS, the CAA and the aviation industry tomorrow to allow NATS to present their findings and consider initial feedback from airlines.”

The full NATS preliminary report can be accessed here.

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