Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary claims NATS’ preliminary report into the ATC system failure in August is ‘bogus… factually inaccurate and full of rubbish’


Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has branded NATS’ preliminary report into its recent system failure ‘ludicrous’, ‘bogus’ and ‘full of rubbish’.

Thousands of holidaymakers were stranded when the computer systems at NATS – the national air-traffic control services provider for the UK – went into meltdown on August 28, with a preliminary report into the root causes issued on Monday.

Mr O’Leary lacerated the report in a lengthy statement from Ryanair – and in an accompanying video – with the findings labelled a ‘whitewash’ and ‘numerous inaccuracies’ within it listed.

‘NATS claims 1,500 flights were cancelled, whereas Eurocontrol [a civil-military aviation support group] confirms “over 2,000” fewer flights over the UK that day,’ Ryanair’s statement said.

‘NATS claims just 575 flights were “delayed”, which is nonsense when over 1,000 Ryanair flights alone to, from, and over the UK that day were delayed.’

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has branded NATS’ preliminary report into its recent system failure ‘ludicrous’, ‘bogus’ and ‘full of rubbish’

The budget Irish airline also claimed that ‘NATS knew of this system collapse at 8.32am’ but that ‘the airlines were not advised until three hours later’, adding: ‘Ryanair was first notified by Eurocontrol – not NATS – just after 11am on Monday 28.’

In a further comment, Ryanair added: ‘NATS’ second line engineering team were “supporting remotely to reduce travel time”, which is a cover-up of the fact that they were sitting at home doing nothing useful.’

NATS should explain why its back-up system failed, and what they are doing to introduce an effective back-up system, rather than the rubbish they have at the moment 

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary 

The airline also questioned why the air traffic control provider does not have a 24-hour back-up system instead of the ‘four-hours of back-up flight plans’ it said NATS claims to have.

It added: ‘NATS fails to explain why one inaccurate flight plan brought down not just the NATS ATC system, but also its “back-up” system. ‘Clearly NATS’ back-up system is useless when the entire infrastructure can be brought down by one inaccurate flight plan filing.’

Addressing the issue of refunds, Ryanair said NATS, which is part-owned by the UK government, has ‘a moral obligation to reimburse its customers for its lamentable incompetence which caused the cancellation of over 2,000 flights – 360,000 passengers – and delayed more than 5,000 flights – 900,000 passengers – on Monday 28 and Tuesday, 29 August’.

It added: ‘NATS claims that it is “not within its remit” to provide cost reimbursement and compensation for airlines. This is false.

‘NATS are free to, and should provide, cost reimbursement to airlines for the millions of pounds in hotels, meal costs and alternative transport reimbursements.’

Mr O’Leary said the report is ‘factually inaccurate’ and ‘ridiculously understates the number of flights that were cancelled or delayed through the NATS system failure’.

He added: ‘NATS should explain why its back-up system failed, and what they are doing to introduce an effective back-up system, rather than the rubbish they have at the moment. They should also explain why their second-line engineering team was sitting at home… instead of being on-site and on the job.

Thousands of holidaymakers were stranded when the computer systems at NATS - the national air-traffic control services provider for the UK – went into meltdown on August 28. Pictured is the NATS station in Prestwick

Thousands of holidaymakers were stranded when the computer systems at NATS – the national air-traffic control services provider for the UK – went into meltdown on August 28. Pictured is the NATS station in Prestwick

NATS CEO Martin Rolfe said a 'one in 15 million' computer failure in Britain's air traffic control system was to blame for the meltdown in UK flight operations. Pictured: Passengers waiting at Stansted Airport on August 29 after flights were delayed

NATS CEO Martin Rolfe said a ‘one in 15 million’ computer failure in Britain’s air traffic control system was to blame for the meltdown in UK flight operations. Pictured: Passengers waiting at Stansted Airport on August 29 after flights were delayed

Travellers whose flights were cancelled or delayed at Stansted Airport last month

Travellers whose flights were cancelled or delayed at Stansted Airport last month

‘Ryanair pays NATS almost €100million per year for an ATC service that is repeatedly short-staffed. The least NATS could and should do is to reimburse its airline customers for the tens of millions of pounds they have spent reimbursing passengers for their hotel, meals and transport expenses, which were entirely due to NATS system failure.

‘If NATS fail to reimburse its customers for these expenses, then Secretary of Transport Mark Harper should intervene – as the largest shareholder in NATS – and instruct NATS to reimburse NATS’ airline customers for these right-to-care expenses.’

Ryanair rival easyJet said the NATS report left some questions unanswered and called for a wide-ranging examination of its resources and IT systems ‘to ensure it is fit for purpose today and in the future’.

Willie Walsh, director general of airline industry body IATA, said in a blog post that NATS management had ‘some serious explaining to do’.

He also called for compensation to airlines and repairs to the control system funded by NATS budgets.

The cause of the crash 

NATS CEO Martin Rolfe said a ‘one in 15 million’ computer failing in Britain’s air traffic control system was to blame for the chaos.

The preliminary NATS report said a single flight plan with two identically labelled markers caused the chaos.

The flight plan met European standards but included two identically named but separate waypoints or navigational markers outside UK airspace, which forced the system – and its back-up – to enter a ‘fail-safe’ mode.

Mr O'Leary said the NATS report is 'factually inaccurate' and 'ridiculously understates the number of flights that were cancelled or delayed through the system failure'

Mr O’Leary said the NATS report is ‘factually inaccurate’ and ‘ridiculously understates the number of flights that were cancelled or delayed through the system failure’

NATS said: 'We stand by our report, which clearly explains the root cause, how our operation was recovered safely and the solution that is now in place to ensure it cannot happen again'

NATS said: ‘We stand by our report, which clearly explains the root cause, how our operation was recovered safely and the solution that is now in place to ensure it cannot happen again’

The system had faced the dilemma of neither being able to reject the flight plan without knowing what impact that might have, nor approve it and hence risk providing wrong safety-critical information.

‘It therefore stopped operating, avoiding any opportunity for incorrect data being passed to a controller,’ the report said.

The subsequent switch to manual processing meant the average number of plans that could be handled dropped from around 400 per hour to as few as 60, leading to restrictions on flights to and from UK airports.

NATS told MailOnline Travel it ‘stands by’ its report.

A NATS spokesperson said: ‘We stand by our report, which clearly explains the root cause, how our operation was recovered safely and the solution that is now in place to ensure it cannot happen again.

‘It is a preliminary report that makes clear the areas we continue to look at.’

IN FULL: RYANAIR CEO MICHAEL O’LEARY’S COMMENTS ON THE PRELIMINARY NATS REPORT 

This Preliminary NATS Report is factually inaccurate. It ridiculously understates the number of flights that were cancelled or delayed through the NATS system failure on Monday 28 August.

In Ryanair’s case, we suffered over 370 flight cancellations – over 63,000 passengers – and more than 1,500 flight delays over the two days – Monday and Tuesday over 270,000 passengers delayed.

This whitewash report, which understates the number of flights cancellations and flight delays, fails to explain why one inaccurate flight plan brought down not just the NATS ATC system, but also the backup system.

NATS should explain why its backup system failed, and what they are doing to introduce an effective backup system, rather than the rubbish they have at the moment. They should also explain why their second-line engineering team was sitting at home – operating ‘remotely to reduce travel time’ – instead of being on-site and on the job.

Finally, we do not accept NATS claim that it is ‘not within remit’ to provide cost reimbursement to customers. Ryanair pays NATS almost €100million per year for an ATC service that is repeatedly short-staffed and on the 28 August, collapsed altogether.

The least NATS could and should do is to reimburse its airline customers for the tens of millions of pounds they have spent reimbursing passengers for their hotel, meals and transport expenses, which were entirely due to NATS system failure, and NATS backup system failure on Mon 28 August last.

If NATS fail to reimburse its customers for these expenses, then Secretary of Transport Mark Harper should intervene as the largest shareholder in NATS, and instruct NATS to reimburse NATS airline customers for these right-to-care expenses.

This report, which is full of false figures about flight cancellations and delays, and avoids any explanation of why NATS backup system failed so spectacularly will not solve this problem unless NATS accepts responsibility for its incompetence and reimburses airlines and passengers for the avoidable right to care expenses they suffered due to NATS failure on Monday 28 August last.

Source: Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary



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