U.K. to Hold Probe of Computer Fault That Halted Flights

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Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority and National Air Traffic Services Holdings Ltd. or NATS, will appoint an independent panel to assess the cause and handling of a computer failure that grounded more than 150 flights last week.

The panel will include technical experts, a CAA board member and specialists in information technology and operational resilience, NATS said in a statement on its website today. The review will cover the cause of the problem, as well as whether NATS dealt appropriately with the incident to minimize delays.

The computer fault, which occurred mid-afternoon local time on Dec. 12, stemmed from a technical issue at the Swanwick air-traffic center and didn’t involve a power failure, according to NATS, which says flights were restricted in accordance with the diminished capabilities of the system.

“Lessons will be learned from this incident,” U.K. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said in a parliamentary hearing today. The panel should produce an interim report in January and a final document by March, he said, adding that under normal circumstances NATS does an “incredibly good job.”

The malfunction caused the cancellation of 122 flights at London’s Heathrow hub, the busiest in Europe and home base for British Airways, together with at least 22 at Gatwick, the U.K. capital’s No. 2 airport, where EasyJet Plc said it lost 10 takeoffs and landings. London City scrapped about 15 departures, with other airports in southern Britain also impacted.

NATS License

The CAA said in a statement yesterday that it would factor Friday’s breakdown into an ongoing review of NATS’s license. An official declined to say when the assessment will conclude.

The Swanwick operations room manages airspace over England and Wales up to the Scottish border, as well as lower-altitude traffic to and from London’s airports. The center, about 60 miles southwest of London, was designed to give NATS 30 percent more capacity, helping it handle 3 million flights a year by 2020 from about 2 million when it opened.