A week on from the NATS outage – an aviation industry fighting on four fronts
The UK’s air traffic control system was brought down in a “one in 15 million” event, according to a report published on Wednesday of this week.
The now infamous outage resulted in 1,500 flight cancellations on Monday 28 August alone, which had disastrous knock-on effects as this was, of course, one of the busiest days in aviation: the end of the summer holidays Bank Holiday Monday.
The NATS report also cites Eurocontrol data as showing 5,592 flights operated in UK airspace on 28 August, 2,000 (or 25%) fewer than had been expected. This includes cancelled flights and those which avoided UK airspace.
On Monday, Copper’s Lisa Childs was on BBC Radio Cymru’s breakfast show, Dros Frecwast, discussing what we can learn from the NATS outage through the medium of Welsh.
Lisa, formerly Heathrow Airport’s External Affairs Lead, argued that critical national infrastructure needs investment to remain safe, reliable and efficient. As former Silver Commander for crises at Britain’s biggest airport, she also stated that the aviation industry – which is a complex network of thousands of private companies – needs more coordinated crisis response exercises so that major incidents like this can be avoided, or at least, their impact reduced.
The NATS report into the air traffic control incident was published on Wednesday.
A very narrow and technical report, detailing the root cause of the outage and solution implemented in response.
Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary has slammed the report as “rubbish”, claiming that the findings “downplay the impact on the aviation industry” and said the report was “full of excuses”. Mr O’Leary told the BBC that the disruption will cost Ryanair alone between £15m and £20m in refunds for hotels, food and alternative travel arrangements.
Industry group Airlines UK’s response was slightly more muted, focussing instead on how airlines’ costs could be covered by government or NATS. Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “airlines cannot be the insurer of a last resort” and expressed his desire for NATS and government to explore how these costs can be covered under current legislation.
The UK’s aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), has also announced an independent review.
The CAA are expected to report in a few months’ time. The watchdog said it could take action if NATS had breached “statutory and licensing obligations”.
In short, a mixed response from the aviation industry. This is an industry fighting on four fronts: still bearing the scars of the catastrophic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and absent government support; bracing itself for the challenging economic context on the horizon and what this means for consumer confidence; responding to operational realities and crises; and one which is trying to adapt to the climate crisis and convince its passengers that aviation isn’t the enemy.
On the latter challenge, amongst the NATS chatter snuck a welcome commitment from the Department from Transport to introduce a revenue certainty scheme. This was heralded as a positive step towards developing a UK sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) industry that could create over 10,000 new jobs by 2030, boost fuel security and play a major role in driving down aviation carbon emissions this decade and beyond.
The aviation industry believes that SAFs are pivotal to deliver its net zero emissions by 2050 target but warns that the opportunity to develop a domestic SAF industry is at risk without decisive action from the Government too. Industry leaders want the UK Government to focus on the rapid design and implementation of the revenue certainty scheme, so it is in place before 2026, to help meet the Jet Zero Strategy commitment of having at least five UK plants under construction by 2025.
To find out more about Copper Consultancy, and how we can support clients in the aviation industry, please contact Senior Account Director Lisa Childs on Lisa.Childs@copperconsultancy.co.uk