Fri, Jun 04, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Computer glitch grounds flights in United Kingdom

NIGHTMARE The computer system went down for just two hours, but the backlog of flights that couldn't take off means that delays were expected for the rest of the day

AP , LONDON

Aircraft pack the stands at Manchester Airport, England, yesterday after flights were grounded across Britain for 50 minutes following a national air traffic control computer system crash.

PHOTO: AP

A computer failure at a British air traffic control center grounded many of the country's flights yesterday morning.

The National Air Traffic Service said its computer system went down at about 6am, halting flights at airports across the country. The system was running again two hours later, but airports said the backlog of flights would cause delays throughout the day.

"Our computer system is now fully operational and safety being our primary concern we are now working to make sure those aircraft in the air and in need of landing should be able to do so to clear the delays," said air traffic spokesman Adrian Yalland.

He said the fault was believed to be located at an operations center in West Drayton, near Heathrow Airport.

All flights were suspended at Heathrow, Britain's busiest airport. An airport spokesman said departing flights were facing delays of between one and two hours.

At Gatwick, flights were landing normally but departures were operating "in a very restricted flow rate," a spokesman said.

Delays were running at two or three hours early yesterday at Stansted Airport north of London, a major hub for budget airlines connecting Britain and the European continent.

At Manchester airport, a spokeswoman said flights were grounded for about an hour but began to resume around 7am. However, delays continued because of a backlog.

British Airways said there would be "severe delays throughout the day."

The air traffic service has been beset by problems since it was partially privatized in 2001. A US$484 million center at Swanwick in southern England opened five years late in 2002.

The opening was delayed by problems with computer software, and the glitches continued for months afterward, as controllers misread aircraft altitudes and destinations because of hard-to-decipher computer screens.

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