Harper says airlines are taking ‘every step possible’ to increase capacity

Transport Secretary Mark Harper met aviation chiefs on Friday (Lucy North/PA)
Transport Secretary Mark Harper met aviation chiefs on Friday (Lucy North/PA)

Mark Harper has said airlines are taking “every step possible” to increase capacity after passengers were left stranded by the air traffic control (ATC) failure, following a meeting with aviation chiefs.

The Transport Secretary said airlines have reported “most customers” affected by the chaos have now reached their destinations.

Flights to and from UK airports were restricted for several hours on Monday afternoon as National Air Traffic Services (Nats) were unable to process flight plans automatically.

Mr Harper met Nats, the Civil Aviation Authority, Border Force, airlines, airports and trade groups on Friday “to discuss the latest situation ahead of the start of the new school year” in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Speaking after the discussions, he said: “Airlines have reported that most customers affected by Monday’s air traffic control failure have reached their destinations and I’m grateful for the steps taken by the industry to help make this happen. The Government continues to support those efforts in any way we can.

“On Monday the Civil Aviation Authority will receive Nats’ initial report into the incident, which the aviation minister and I will study with interest. Any next steps will be set out after the initial findings are published later in the week.

“All parties are working hard to understand the incident and make sure passengers don’t face this kind of disruption again, and I will be supporting them in this effort.”

A Department for Transport readout of the meeting said the Transport Secretary had noted “the failure came during one of the busiest weeks of the year for aviation and that airlines have taken every step possible to increase capacity where possible, including adding extra flights and putting on larger aircraft.”

Nats said an “unusual piece of data” it received forced it to switch to manual checks.

More than a quarter of flights were cancelled on Monday, and the knock-on effect continued for two more days.

This week’s disruption came at one of the worst times of the year as there is little spare capacity due to it being the end of the summer break for many schools.

Thousands of holidaymakers are still stranded overseas as many flights from popular destinations are full.

Nats is conducting an inquiry into what happened and will send a preliminary report to Mr Harper on Monday.