Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Ryanair sues UK air traffic control firm over system crash that disrupted flights for 700,000 passengers

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Ryanair, headed by group chief executive Michael O’Leary, has filed a legal action against NATS (En Route) Plc in the UK’s High Court. The lawsuit has been taken by Ryanair’s Irish and UK divisions.

The case in the Commercial Court in the UK is being pursued in relation to “general commercial contracts and arrangements”.

Ryanair said it can’t comment on pending legal proceedings.

NATS confirmed that proceedings had been initiated in the UK. “Our legal team is reviewing the claim and will respond as required,” a spokesperson said.

Today’s News in 90 Seconds – April 22nd

On August 28 last year, the NATS flight planning system crashed, resulting in flight cancellations and disrupting more than 700,000 passengers. An interim report published last month found that the malfunction resulted in “considerable financial and emotional consequences” for affected passengers.

Last month Ryanair called for NATS chief executive Martin Rolfe to resign, and said NATS should have to reimburse airlines and passengers for the costs they suffered as a result of the system collapse.

Airlines planning to operate flights through controlled airspace are required to file a flight plan that contains information such as aircraft type, speed, and routing.

Last year’s NATS failure was caused when a system that processes flight plans was unable to properly process data for a specific flight from Los Angeles to Paris Orly.

Processing of flight data then resulted in errors being generated on the system, with the software subsequently putting the system into maintenance mode in order to prevent the transfer of what it believed was corrupt flight data to air traffic controllers. At that point, further automated processing of flight plan data was impossible and had to be undertaken manually.

The failure upended flight schedules. Ryanair had to cancel 350 flights between August 28 and 29, which discommoded 63,000 of its passengers.

NATS is a public-private partnership, with both British Airways and EasyJet having a stake in the venture.

EasyJet had to cancel 511 flights on Monday, August 28, a bank holiday in the UK, or 27pc of its scheduled flights that day. The following day it had to cancel 88 flights. In total, the NATS meltdown resulted in EasyJet incurring almost 65,000 minutes of delays, affecting 110,000 of its customers.

EasyJet chief commercial officer Sophie Dekkers told the UK’s Transport Select Committee that the airline was “deeply concerned about the complete lack of communication between NATS and the airlines in those critical hours after the incident occurred”.

A total of more than 100 flights in and out of Ireland were cancelled due to the problem.

An interim independent review of the system failure published last month cited delays in engineers addressing the issue, as they were on standby at home due to the bank holiday. A re-set of the failed system had to be done on-site. It took an engineer 90 minutes to arrive there having exhausted other remediation attempts remotely.

Mr O’Leary said last month that Ryanair pays more than £100m (€116m) a year in air traffic control fees in the UK.

“We are entitled to expect an efficient well-run service, rather than [the] mismanagement and incompetence we suffered on 28 August, 2023 due to the NATS system collapse,” he said.

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