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Technical issue forces delays, cancellations at U.K.’s Heathrow Airport | CBC News

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Britain’s National Air Traffic Service (NATS) was hit by a technical problem for several hours on Monday, causing widespread disruption to flights using U.K. airspace that airlines and airports said would continue for some time despite the issue being fixed.

NATS had earlier had to restrict the flow of aircraft after the issue affected its system’s ability to automatically process flight plans, with airlines and airports warning of delays and cancellations.

“We have identified and remedied the technical issue affecting our flight planning system this morning. We are now working closely with airlines and airports to manage the flights affected as efficiently as possible,” NATS said in a statement.

“Our engineers will be carefully monitoring the system’s performance as we return to normal operations.”

British Transport Minister Mark Harper said he was working with NATS to help them manage affected flights and support passengers.

Two travellers speak with an official wearing a face mask in an airport
A British Airways staff member speaks to passengers Monday. The outage affected airlines’ ability to process flight plans automatically, meaning the plans had to be input manually, a much slower process. (Hollie Adams/Reuters)

‘Significant delays’ expected for rest of the day

Earlier Irish air traffic control provider AirNav Ireland said the issue, which struck during a public holiday in parts of Britain, was resulting in “significant delays for flights across Europe that are traveling to, from or through UK airspace.”

A spokesperson for London Heathrow, the busiest hub in western Europe, said schedules would remain significantly disrupted for the rest of the day.

“We ask passengers to only travel to the airport if their flight is confirmed as still operating. Teams across Heathrow are working as hard as they can to minimize the knock-on impacts and assist those whose journeys have been affected,” the spokesperson said.

Long line of people with luggage crowd around an official looking person.
Passengers queue for the assistance with self check-in machines. Some passengers said they were told to expect delays of up to 12 hours. (Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters)

‘There was no information’

British Airways said its flights were being severely disrupted and it had made “significant changes” to its schedule, while other airlines, including Ryanair, also said some flights to and from the U.K. would be delayed or cancelled.

Manchester Airport, London Stansted and London Gatwick were among the many U.K. airports who warned of delays and cancellations, while Dublin Airport said the issue had resulted in delays and cancellations to some flights into and out of the Irish capital.

Many passengers took to social media to say they were stuck on planes on the tarmac waiting to take off, or being held in airport buildings in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Israel and elsewhere on what is a traditionally busy travel day as the school holidays draw to a close.

One Reuters witness who was held on the tarmac at Budapest for two hours before being taken off the plane said their pilot told passengers that they could face an 8-to-12-hour delay.

Lyudmila Hristova said she and her husband had planned to attend a niece’s wedding in Bulgaria, but their flight from Heathrow was cancelled.

“Now we are looking for some information on how we can arrange another flight,” she said. “It is so difficult, they just got us out of the airport, it was very rude. There was no information, just some leaflets and that’s it.”

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