NATS blames touch screen tool for glitch

The outage that struck UK air traffic control systems on Saturday was due to a technical fault with a touch screen interface provided by Frequentis.

Systems at NATS’ operations room in Swanwick stopped working for 14 hours on December 7 and it was forced to reduce traffic by 20 per cent while its engineers tried to resolve the technical failure.

“The outage on Saturday was caused by a problem with a Frequentis system that enables our controllers to talk to other parts of the operation,” NATS told Air Traffic Management.

“It uses a touch screen interface that automatically loads all the contacts – around NATS and in other agencies involved in the air navigation network – that a controller will need for the particular piece of airspace that they’re controlling at that time.

“It therefore ensures they can always immediately reach the person they need to speak to and will reconfigure itself with settings specific to the sector that the controller is responsible for when they log in for their shift.”

It’s understood that the touchscreen telephone system failed to configure correctly so that new positions could be opened to split the extra sectors needed for daytime airspace control.

Delays were reported at airports including London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin. There was a disproportionate effect on southern England due to its complex and busy airspace.

NATS issued a statement on Saturday stating that the technical problem was ‘not simply internal telephones’ but the system that controllers use to speak to other ATC agencies both in the UK and Europe and is the biggest system of its kind in Europe.

NATS boss Richard Deakin later admitted that an inquiry into the resilience of the UK airspace was needed.

“We are keen to do all we can at NATS to ensure the aviation industry has a full understanding of the capability that is in place in the UK and to take any further steps our customers and regulators decide are necessary to help avoid a repeat of last Saturday’s problems,” he said.

Deakin added that the error took 14 hours to resolve and claimed that NATS eventually “delivered over 90 per cent of an extremely busy schedule of flights during the day”.

Posted in CAAs/ANSPs, News, Operations

One Response to NATS blames touch screen tool for glitch

  1. A few Panels short of a Day shift says:

    Panels loading there revised configurations from a common database / server ? Hmm… What could have gone wrong there then ?