Belgian Air-Traffic Disruption Affects 20,000 Travelers

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A power failure at Belgium’s air-traffic-control agency disrupted flights in the country for several hours on Wednesday, affecting at least 20,000 travelers including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

The electrical problem at Belgocontrol caused almost 150 flights to be cancelled and more than 30 were diverted to other destinations, according to Brussels Airport, the nation’s largest. The power failure occurred about 9:30 a.m. in Brussels and flights started to resume around 2 p.m.

Juncker said the disruption in Belgium would force him to drive to Luxembourg to catch a flight to Tokyo for this week’s Europe-Japan summit. The airspace shut-down also affected talks on Greece’s international aid program, as negotiators from Athens were diverted to the German city of Dusseldorf and bussed to a meeting with creditors in Brussels.

“A gradual restarting of the air-traffic-control systems” started at 2 p.m., Brussels Airport said on its website. The first takeoff after the disruption was a United Airlines flight to Newark, New Jersey.

During the disruption, military air-traffic controllers helped guide civilian flights to foreign airports, Belga newswire reported. The problem didn’t affect overflights of Belgium, only takeoffs and landings in the country, according to Eurocontrol, the agency that provides air-traffic-control services across Europe.

The Greek officials traveling from Athens were forced to go by bus to Belgium from Dusseldorf, pushing back the start of the latest round of talks to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, according to a Greek government spokesman in Brussels.

Exact Cause

Belgocontrol said the exact cause of the power failure was not clear, Reuters reported. “The surge also took out our emergency generators, which is why we had to clear the airspace,” a spokesman told the news agency.

In December, a computer fault at the Swanwick air-traffic center in the U.K. caused the cancellation of more than 150 flights at London’s Heathrow and other airports in southern Britain. The U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority and National Air Traffic Services Holdings Ltd. were investigating the cause, which didn’t involve a power failure, according to NATS.

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