Nats chief assures transport committee ‘We are ready now’

The head of National Air Traffic Services (Nats) has told MPs that the interim report on the air traffic control meltdown last August Bank Holiday “broadly concurred” with Nats own findings.

Appearing before the transport select committee of MPs on Tuesday, Nats chief executive Martin Rolfe said he welcomed the interim report published last month by a CAA-commissioned panel into the failure which led to flight cancellations and delays hitting 700,000 passengers.

Rolfe told MPs: “It broadly concurred with our findings, that we understood the cause of the failure and how to fix it, and we had fixed it.

“It identified some of the same areas we did in our report on where we can make improvements, particularly around communications.”

Rolfe argued: “We cross-checked the interim report with our findings and the recommendations coming from that. There is nothing in there that we hadn’t already taken action on or have not now acted upon.”

He added: “There are obviously some wider considerations the panel is looking at – such as the resilience of the entire system – which we can’t do on our own.”

Rolfe assured the committee: “I’m very comfortable we are ready now for an event. We’re putting the finishing touches, but we’re confident we’re in the right place.”

He was asked to respond to remarks made to the committee last week by CAA chairman Sir Stephen Hillier who suggested the scale of the incident showed “the system is running pretty tight and this needs to be looked at further”.

Rolfe said: “My understanding is Sir Stephen was talking about the aviation system in its entirety, not just Nats.”

He argued: “The challenge in summer will always be if anything goes wrong the system is very tight. Every seat is sold. The system works in such a tight environment that there is simply no space to recover.”

Rolfe took the opportunity to confirm that 579 flights were delayed on the day by an average of one hour 54 minutes, not far short of Nats’ initial assessment, and that about 1,500 flights were cancelled although “we have still not seen a definitive number of cancelled flights as no single body collates that”.

But he took issue with “speculation” that engineers working from home contributed to the time it took to resolve the incident.

In fact, the interim report attributed the scale of the disruption to engineers not being on site, reporting the problem proved “more protracted than it might otherwise have been” due to senior engineers not being available on site over the bank holiday.

Rolfe insisted: “None of our engineers work from home. They generally work on site, but we now have the technology when they are not at work for them to log in remotely to fix a problem when on call.”

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