Ancient computer system and a dozy operator blamed for air travel chaos

The airport chaos which saw air travel grind to an effective halt affecting thousands of passengers may have been caused by British air traffic control’s creaking old computing system, an expert has claimed.

Michele Robson, who worked in air traffic control for more than two decades, told the Sky New Daily podcast that Monday’s travel carnage may have been started by a dozy operator inputting “bad information” about a single flight into a “very old” computing system.

The bedlam which ensued across Europe has seen Brits stranded across the continent and tourists, desperate to soak up some summer sun, losing precious time abroad or their holidays altogether.

Weary travellers have been pictured curled up on terminal floors by their suitcases, waiting to learn whether they’ll be able to fly to their destination and when.

Michele, an air travel veteran, told broadcasters: “When there have been failures in the past, it’s normally something to do with bad information that’s been input in the incorrect format.

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“It’s a very old system, it’s been running for many years and generally we’ve been very lucky and we don’t often have failures, or if we do, we get it back during that backup time, which is what it’s there for.

“There have been other instances where something has been incorrectly formatted and the flight plan computer behaves in a way they’re not expecting and effectively causes it to a fail, so that could be enough to potentially crash the system in effect if it was formatted incorrectly.

She added: “You have to space things in a certain way using a certain number of dots, as an example. They do it in a very unique way that’s never been done before, otherwise it would happen every day.

“So it has to be something pretty unusual that they’ve input for it to happen, but it’s an old system and perhaps something was input yesterday that it’s never seen before and that’s what caused it to have this reaction where it’s failed.”

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The airports expert also spoke to the MailOnline and explained that the system error may have come from a small time operator, rather than an established airline like BA.

She explained to the publication: “It could be something like a small operator – not a name like British Airways – doing something unusual.

“That can be something like where an aircraft is crossing boundaries between UK and French air space several times. Also, if it is a small operator, they may not be as used to filing plans. It’s unlikely to be one dot in the wrong place.

“I describe it as the Swiss Cheese model, lots of things added together causing the system to accept that message. For some reason, because it’s never been seen before, it accepted it, and caused the system to fail.

“I’ve been through failures and had to go to a manual system and I think people assume it’s like in a film where there are people running around and shouting on the phone, but these people are used to working in a high pressured job.

“They have emergency training at least once a year, so they know exactly what to do, and take it in their stride.”

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