A technical fault, involving computer code written a quarter of a century ago, was responsible for widespread disruption at British airports.
Richard Deakin, the chief executive of Nats, the firm charged with controlling British airspace, admitted the software glitch was “buried” among millions of lines of code at the site in Swanwick in Hampshire.
The Labour MP for Newport West, Paul Flynn, yesterday spoke out about Mr Deakin’s role, and called for him to be held accountable by having his bonuses taken away.
He added: “I hope after the chaos, which was dreadful, though a rare event, he will have his bonuses stripped from him.”
Mr Deakin earns more than £1m after receiving a 45 per cent pay rise this year, according to national newspaper reports.
Meanwhile, Nats was reportedly warned about the quality of its plans to deal with technical failures. It has been reported that Nats gave the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) a report earlier this year following major disruption caused by a communications problem last December.
The CAA said “themes on avoiding a recurrence” were a “good first step but lack detail and clarity”, the newspaper reported.
Passengers faced travel chaos as dozens of flights at airports around the country were disrupted or cancelled on Friday and early Saturday. About 40 flights at Heathrow were cancelled before 9.30am, after which the airport said normal service was resumed.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin described the disruption as unacceptable, and MP Louise Ellman, chairwoman of the Transport Committee, said Mr McLoughlin will be asked about the incident when he appears before the panel today.
But Mr Deakin maintained that it was a “very unusual event” which had not occurred before.
He said: “The challenge is that we have around 50 different systems at Swanwick and around four million lines of code. This particular glitch was buried in one of those four million lines of code.”
Mr Deakin said the problem had been “effectively rectified”, and gave assurances that it would not reoccur.
He conceded that some of their systems were “fairly elderly”, adding: “The system we had a problem with last night has code written in the early ‘90s.”
Nats declared that its systems were back to full operational capacity on Friday night, but a knock-on effect was seen at airports on Saturday.
Gatwick airport said there had been 16 cancellations and seven diversions of inbound flights on Friday but said the airport was running normally on Saturday. Airports as far north as Aberdeen and Edinburgh were also affected by the computer problem. Other airports that reported delays on Friday included Manchester, Stansted and Luton.
A spokesman for the CAA said that it was the Nats report about the incident last December that lacked detail. He was unable to confirm whether or not that report contained information about plans Nats would put into action in the event of a failure.