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The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"Thousands were delayed by up to three hours"
 real 28k

Sunday, 18 June, 2000, 08:09 GMT 09:09 UK
Computer glitch causes flight chaos
Heathrow airport
Heathrow hit by delays
Air passengers across the UK still face long delays after an earlier problem with a National Air Traffic Services computer which handles all planes flying into UK airspace.

The glitch, which developed at West Drayton air traffic control centre near Heathrow at 1000 GMT on Saturday, has now been fixed but airports face a back-log of flights.

British Airways has cancelled several flights to Europe, and the British Airports Authority has advised all passengers to check with their airlines before leaving home.

Sleeping passengers wait for flights
Holiday-makers had to wait for hours

BAA's Ann Brophy said: "There are going to be delays. What we don't want is lots of people coming to the airport only to be told to come back tomorrow."

Gatwick and Heathrow have been worst hit but Manchester, Belfast and Glasgow have also been affected.

A spokeswoman for NATS said the computer which went down was not "safety critical".

Deborah Seymour said: "It surrounds what are known as flight strips which contain all the information about a plane's course. These are normally passed electronically but staff were having to manually retrieve the information - basically write it out by hand.

"The problem was solved at about 1300 BST but we are now dealing with a back-log.


Sir Bobby Charlton
Sir Bobby Charlton could not get to Belgium for the England game
"The airports which are full and have no room for planes to land will be dealt with first," she added.

NATS has promised a "thorough investigation" into the computer breakdown, the second time the system has failed in a week.

A spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents said the computer problem had caused a "nightmare" for holidaymakers.

He advised tourists to keep in touch with their tour operator or airline to find out what delays they faced.

Airport chaos

Among those affected by delays at Manchester Airport was soccer legend Sir Bobby Charlton, on his way to see England's crucial Euro 2000 match in Belgium.

Sir Bobby said he would be watching the game at home after discovering that his midday flight would not arrive in Belgium until 2115 BST.

"I can't believe it," he said as he left the airport.

British Airways said 60 flights had been cancelled at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Budget operator easyJet cancelled all its flights for the day, instead offering customers refunds or alternative flights.

Many of the hundreds of people delayed at the UK's busiest airport, Heathrow, were incredulous that a single technical failure could cause problems on such a scale.

Heathrow control room
Computer problems at Heathrow affect flights to and from the UK
Phil Flowers, from Wednesbury, West Midlands, faced a wait of several hours for his flight to Johannesburg.

"I just can't believe they haven't got an effective back-up system," he said.

Ann Jenkins, from Luton, who was bound for Portugal said: "It's been chaos since we arrived. I've had a bad week anyway, so this is just what we didn't need.

"If the flight is cancelled we'll have to go home. It's amazing how a computer can go down and cause these problems."

Ian Gawtrey at the control tower in Gatwick airport said the airport had taken an extra half dozen planes that had been diverted from Heathrow.

Florida flights

Travellers heading south were facing two to five hour delays at Manchester Airport.

Duty manager Bill Crawshaw said: "Trans Atlantic flights are not affected but a number of charter flights to Europe have been delayed. As soon as we are told the problem is fixed we can let them go."

At Belfast Airport passengers face delays of up to five hours.

Spokeswoman Natalie Raper said: "The majority of flights have a three-and-a-half to four-hour delay, and five hours for the Florida flight but things are starting to move again,"

Among those caught up in the flight problems were a group of English hooligans being deported from Belgium.

Their flight was diverted from Stansted to Manchester airport, where they were met by British Transport Police.

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