Ryanair boss says air traffic chaos report ‘full of rubbish’

Heathrow Airport on August 28  (AP)
Heathrow Airport on August 28 (AP)

Ryanair’s boss has rubbished a preliminary report on the IT glitch that caused more than 1,000 flights to be cancelled or delayed last week leaving passengers stranded abroad.

Michael O’Leary said a National Air Traffic Services (Nats) report on the air traffic control technical failure that caused widespread travel chaos on Monday August 28 is “full of rubbish” and “bogus”.

More than 250,000 people were affected as more than a quarter of all flights to and from the UK on the day were disrupted, causing knock-on effects for days after the glitch.

More than 1,000 flights departing UK airports were cancelled due to the problems last week, data from aviation analytics company Cirium revealed.

The report, submitted earlier this week to the Civil Aviation Authority, said the failure was a "one in 15 million" occurrence.

It explained that software was unable to extract a valid UK portion of a flight plan and reacted by shutting down.

A back-up system followed the same steps and also stopped working.

In a video message on Wednesday Mr O’Leary said: “This inaccurate and rubbish preliminary report is not acceptable.

“It doesn’t explain how and why the back-up service was crashed by one false flight plan, and if they don’t explain it this will happen again.”

Mr O’Leary said “heads should roll” and called for the head of Nats to resign.

He also reiterated calls from airlines for Nats to “reimburse” them for the cost of refunding stranded travellers’ accommodation, food and taxi costs.

“Nats should be reimbursing airlines for the costs we’ve incurred as a result of Nats incompetence,” he added.

Mr O’Leary also claimed figures about the disruption were “completely understated”.

On Monday Ryanair revealed around 63,000 of its passengers saw their flights cancelled during last week’s failure with more than 350 of its flights cancelled on August 28 and 29 due to the issue.

Global airline body the International Air Transport Association (Iata) estimated the cost to airlines was nearly £100 million due to the requirement to provide affected passengers with alternative flights, food and drinks, and hotel accommodation.

Industry body Airlines UK said its members should not “carry the can every time we see disruption of this magnitude” .

Nats has been approached for a reponse.

Martin Rolfe, Nats chief executive, said on Wednesday: “Incidents like this are extremely rare and we have put measures in place to ensure it does not happen again.

“Our preliminary report... details what caused the incident, how we responded and the steps already taken to prevent recurrence. We welcome any further review of the incident that the CAA wishes to conduct.”

Nats said the system failure had “never been encountered before”, with the system having processed more than 15 million flight plans over the five years it has been in service.

It did not identify the route of the flight plan which led to the chaos, but said the aircraft was scheduled to enter UK airspace during an 11-hour journey.

The process led to the plan featuring two waypoints around 4,000 nautical miles apart but with identical names.

Airlines’ flight plans feature waypoints, which represent locations and are identified by a combination of letters and numbers.

The report has been shared with Transport Secretary Mark Harper.