Air Traffic Control Issue Disrupts Thousands Of Passengers At London Airports

The UK’s busiest airports are in chaos today as a technical issue affecting air traffic control is causing major delays. This comes a day after extremes of temperature and evening thunderstorms caused problems with planes and trains, only exacerbating the impact of today’s incident.

Heathrow chaos
There’s chaos at Heathrow as an ATC issue compounds delays caused by extreme weather. Photo: Tony Higsett via Flickr

Today is typically one of the busiest days for flights from the UK, as the first Friday in the school summer holidays. At what should be a fun and exciting time, thousands of families have had their travel plans disrupted as they suffer the consequence of an ATC failure on top of yesterday’s extreme weather impacts.

Thunderstorms across London saw numerous flight cancellations last night. Today, those storms have moved across Europe, adding to the chaos of the situation. The ATC issue is thought to be a problem with radar. A statement issued by the National Air Traffic Service (NATS) explained,

“We have a technical problem with a system at the Swanwick Air Traffic Control which is causing some flight restrictions. We are doing all we can to fix it as soon as possible

“We apologise for any inconvenience people may be experiencing and will provide further information as soon as possible.”

As well as passengers delayed at the London airports, those heading to London from other airports are facing restrictions too. These are not only due to the ATC fault but also because of a band of thunderstorms hovering around the north of France.

Problems at Swanwick

Swanwick in Hampshire is the main control centre for Southern England, looking after air traffic at both of the UK’s busiest airports – Heathrow and Gatwick. It seems that the fault is affecting how close together flights can take off and land, meaning many flights, although still operating, are facing serious delays.

A spokesman for Heathrow Airport told the Mirror,

“We are aware that NATS – the air traffic control service – is currently experiencing a technical issue with their systems that is affecting some airspace in the UK.

“Flights are currently arriving and departing at Heathrow, and we are supporting NATS to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. We apologise to passengers for any disruption that occurs as a result.”

Gatwick too warned of delays, advising passengers to check the latest information with airlines.

At 15:00 GMT, NATS issued a further update saying that they had fixed the problem “sufficiently to safely increase traffic flow rates”. However, they are still battling with the knock on effects of the earlier delays, and of issues with weather across Europe unrelated to the radar fault.

At the time of writing, Flight Radar 24 reports an average delay of 25 minutes at Gatwick (LGW) and of 60 minutes at Heathrow (LHR).

First BA A350-1000 celebration canceled

The arrival of British Airways’ first A350-1000 was scheduled to take place today. The event should have been a major celebration for the carrier, with media including Simple Flying invited to attend. However, due to storms across Europe and the ATC chaos in London, the carrier decided to call off the whole thing.

British Airways Airbus A350 Delivery
The arrival of BA’s first A350-1000 has been called off. Photo: Airbus

It seems that G-XWBA was unable to fly due to the inclement weather. Speaking to The Points Guy, a British Airways spokesperson said,

“Due to the weather and storms across Europe, all airlines and airports are suffering from severe delays. There are currently huge storms over France causing havoc. British Airways are currently not even able to land some of their planes full of paying passengers so landing an empty plane for a delivery flight is out of the question”.

Even if XWBA had managed to make it to Heathrow, it would have certainly seemed a little callous of BA to be running a big celebration when thousands of holidaymakers are facing a nightmare. According to the Independent, BA canceled at least 50 flights to and from Heathrow over the past day, and one flight to San Francisco has been delayed by more than 24 hours.

Stranded passengers were reported by the Telegraph has being handed roll mats to sleep on.

As well as departing passengers, some inbound passengers have been faced with mega delays too. Passengers from Verona, Naples, Salzburg, Malta and Dalman were unable to travel at their scheduled time last night, being delayed until today instead.

Have you been caught up in the chaos in London? Let us know in the comments.