Air traffic glitch sparks big flight delays in UK

12/7/2013
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Passengers queue at the flight check-in desk to re-book tickets at London's Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 after a
Passengers queue at the flight check-in desk to re-book tickets at London's Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 after a "technical problem" at the National Air Traffic Services control center in Swanwick, south England, caused long delays and cancellations.

LONDON  — Hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled at Britain’s busiest airports today after a technical glitch left the main air traffic control center unable to operate at full capacity.

National Air Traffic Services, which controls the crowded airspace over England, said it was having a problem switching between nighttime and busier daytime operations at its control center in Swanwick, southern England.

Spokeswoman Juliet Kennedy said the problem with an internal phone system was preventing staff opening new control positions to deal with busier daytime traffic, meaning the service was able to handle about 20 percent fewer flights than on a normal Saturday.

It estimated the problem would be fixed by about 6:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. EST)

Heathrow Airport — Europe’s busiest — had delays of an hour or more on many departures, and canceled several dozen short-haul flights to destinations including; Milan, Istanbul and Nice, France.

London’s Stansted airport said departing flights were delayed between 30 minutes and two hours because of restrictions on air space and the flow of planes. Gatwick airport said 20 percent of flights were being delayed.

Spillover delays were reported across Britain and at Dublin airport in Ireland.

The air traffic service normally handles up to 6,000 arriving and departing flights a day from its bases at Swanwick and at Prestwick in Scotland.