NATS ignored previous recommendations – IT cock-up report

Since privatisation, investment ‘somewhat less than had been planned overall’

Original "Airplane" image from Paramount Pictures

The National Air Traffic Services failed to implement recommendations to mitigate IT risks, according to an independent report into the mega systems failure in December which left thousands of passengers stranded in Blighty.

In December 2014, 120 flights were cancelled and 500 delayed for 45 minutes, affecting 10,000 passengers in total. An interim report in February pointed to a failure in both System Flight Server (SFS) channels as the cause.

According to the NATS System Failure 12 December 2014: Final Report (PDF), previous recommendations from a major outage only a year earlier had not been addressed by the body.

These included a review of the industry’s ability to respond to service failures and identify required changes to NATS’ crisis management capabilities, resilience of systems, procedures and service continuity plans.

It had also suggested better interactions with aviation safety body – the Eurocontrol Network Manager – during a crisis.

"Despite being assessed by NATS as complete before 12 December, it is evident that neither of these recommendations had been addressed fully," said the report.

In an apparently unrelated move, last week NATS chief executive Richard Deakin announced he was stepping down. Deakin had been at the helm for five years.

Former business secretary Vince Cable had accused NATS of skimping on IT investment and leaving itself vulnerable due to its “ancient” technology. However, Deakin denied the body had under-invested in its tech.

However, the report also acknowledged that in the 12 years since the body was privatised, the company "has invested somewhat less than had been planned overall".

The report made a number of recommendations, included a suggestion that NATS should consider introducing a formal Error Management System (EMS) to capture anomalous occurrences that fall below the safety event threshold.

Responding to the report, NATS said: "We agree with the panel that it is unrealistic to expect that complex systems such as ours will never fail."

"To mitigate this we will continue to invest in making sure that failures are extremely rare and the impact of such failures on the travelling public are minimised as far as reasonably practical."

"And we are pleased that the panel recognised the continued programme of investment to accelerate the deployment of our next generation of systems." ®

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