The importance of the robustness of technical systems

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Airline passengers are used to waiting for flights. They aren’t used to waiting when there is no weather problem, no strike action, no emergency and no aircraft technical issues.

The delays that began early yesterday morning and continued throughout the day seem to have affected over 100,000 people, ten airports directly including a couple of the busiest in the world and countless others around the world when they had to delay flights into the UK and Ireland. Yes, Dublin was affected as well. At least NATS (responsible for our air space) apologised

Eurocontrol (the overall manager of European air space) said that in all 1,300 flights across Britain and Ireland were delayed. The cause – a broken internal telephone system in a single air traffic control base. It seems that the night-time operation failed to properly switch over to the daytime system. At night there are fewer flights and fewer controllers on duty. When the morning starts, it appears – and technical readers please correct me if I have misunderstood this – the system alters to allow more flights to take place in the same air space. Because there was no switch, the systems would only allow fewer flights. According to Eurocontrol, the night-time operation failed to properly switch over to the daytime system. 8% of all European flights were affected. That’s not just UK and Irish flights but all flights coming into and leaving Europe.

So if I understand, the “system” cannot be manually altered. Whichever genius of an IT systems chap dreamed this wonderful system up didn’t make allowance for a problem. This was no plan “B” in case of an error. If there was a plan B why is no-one mentioning it?
Eurocontrol announced – and I quote – “This incident highlights once again the importance of the robustness of the technical systems supporting Air Traffic Management and the need for contingency planning at network level to minimise the impact of any failures on the travelling public.”

Is it only me that wonders how robust the system was in the first place, why Eurocontrol thinks that the actions taken have helped minimise the situation and why they think that there was contingency planning. If there was no “contingency planning” how bad would this have been?

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