UK Politics

Air traffic boss denies 'complacency' over flight chaos

Planes grounded at Heathrow airport Image copyright PA
Image caption Flights out of Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton were heavily disrupted

The boss of National Air Traffic Services has denied claims he was "complacent" over the flight chaos which hit 10,000 passengers on Friday.

Richard Deakin, chief executive of Nats, said he was "not proud" of the disruption but defended the response and back-up plan.

Expecting systems to be failure-proof was "unrealistic", he told the Commons Transport Committee.

Nats has said airlines will get a "rebate" because of the disruption.

Mr Deakin said 120 flights had been cancelled and 500 delayed in the chaos.

A computer glitch at the national air traffic headquarters in Swanwick, Hampshire, caused a system failure affecting mainly Heathrow, Luton and Gatwick airports.

Image caption Nats boss Richard Deakin was pressed over his annual pay packet

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin described the problems as "unacceptable" in his evidence to the committee earlier this week.

Mr Deakin was repeatedly pressed by the Labour MP Tom Harris on whether he agreed with that assessment.

"I think for those passengers it was unacceptable and from our point of view, yes, we're not proud of what happened on Friday night but I think we are proud of how we responded to it," he answered.

Mr Harris, a former transport minister, said Mr Deakin had come across as "incredibly complacent".

"Your evidence so far has kind of given the impression that everything's fine..You seem to be suggesting that what happened Friday was a bit of a nuisance but you're ticking the box, you're taking a couple of hours out of your day to appear before us but after that it's fine," the MP said.

'Failures rare'

Mr Deakin denied the accusation, saying a "huge amount of time" had been spent making sure systems were performing to their absolute ability.

He said the computer glitch had been identified and fixed and that particular problem would not occur again. However, he could not rule out other problems in the future.

"Any complex system will have failures in it. I think it's unrealistic to expect that a system such as Nats never has any reduction in capacity due to those failures," Mr Deakin said.

"They are rare...but we should take into account that sometimes systems do fail which is why we have back-up systems."

Image copyright PA
Image caption An independent inquiry will be held into the disruption

The Nats boss was also pressed over his pay package, confirming that he had received £1.05 million, including a bonus of £272,000, in the year to March 2014 - an increase of 46%.

The bonus itself had been cut by 12%, he said, because of a previous air traffic control failure in December 2013.

Mr Deakin was appearing with Nats operations managing director Martin Rolfe and Andrew Haines, chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority, which has already announced that an independent inquiry will be held into last Friday's failure.

Questioned about the independence of the inquiry, Mr Haines said it would be "highly independent".

In a statement, Nats said it would suffer a "financial consequence" as a result of Friday's disruption.

"Under the company's regulatory performance regime, customers will receive a rebate on charges in the future," it said in a statement.

"The amount is being calculated and will be notified to customers in due course."

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