Airlines should be compensated for air traffic control meltdown – Finnair boss

The boss of Finnair has joined calls for airlines to be compensated for an air traffic control meltdown (Alamy/PA)
The boss of Finnair has joined calls for airlines to be compensated for an air traffic control meltdown (Alamy/PA)

The boss of Finnair has joined calls for airlines to be compensated for an air traffic control (ATC) meltdown.

Chief executive Topi Manner suggested it would be “natural” for National Air Traffic Services (Nats) to reimburse carriers for the cost of disruption.

Finnair was among the airlines affected when around 1,500 flights due to serve airports across the UK were cancelled and many others were delayed on August 28, which was a bank holiday and one of the busiest days of the year for travel.

An initial inquiry by Nats found the problem was caused by its system failing to process a flight plan correctly.

The subsequent switch from automatic to manual processing meant the average number of plans it could handle dropped from around 400 per hour to as few as 60, leading to restrictions on flights.

The combined cost to airlines in providing refunds, re-bookings, hotel rooms and refreshments to affected passengers has been estimated at around £100 million by industry body the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

Asked if carriers should be reimbursed by Nats, Mr Manner said: “Wouldn’t it be natural that they would be liable?

“It’s pretty clear what the source of the failure was.”

Mr Manner said Nats must have “a laser-like focus on not having these things going forward”.

Nats’ preliminary report stated: “It is not within Nats’ remit to address any wider questions arising from the incident such as cost reimbursement and compensation for the associated disruption.”

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary previously said “the least Nats could and should do is to reimburse its airline customers”, while Iata director-general Willie Walsh told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was “very unfair” that Nats “doesn’t pay a single penny”.

Departures board
The air traffic control issues caused widespread disruption last month (Lucy North/PA)

Aviation regulator the Civil Aviation Authority is to launch an independent review into what happened.

Airlines operating in Europe have repeatedly suffered ATC disruption due to staff shortages and strike action.

Mr Manner said: “If you look at the European summer it has been certainly better than it was last year, but I would not characterise it as good yet.

“Certainly the ATC issues and challenges have been impacting on-time performance in European aviation and then on top of that there have been specific ATC failures like IT failures in the UK.

“Our advantage in this environment has been that our home hub in Helsinki is very, very well functioning.

“We have been of course exposed to the ATC issues in European airspace and also some of the capacity constraints in European airports, but since the home hub has been functioning so well our on-time performance has been clearly above 80% during the during summer.

“We have been one of the most reliable airlines during the during summer with very, very few cancellations.

“It has not happened by accident, it’s by design. We have been baking in adequate buffers to our production in terms of pilot buffers, spare aircraft and so on, to have had this reliability.

“There’s always a balance between maxing your revenue and optimising the customer service.

“We think that we have been finding a good balance and we have been really thinking of the customer in optimising our production.”