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‘Extremely lucky’ Gibraltar escapes worst of UK flight disruption

Passengers at Gibraltar International Airport.

Gibraltar Airport has been “extremely lucky” to escape the brunt of disruption caused by a fault in the UK’s air traffic control system that left tens of thousands of passengers facing flight cancellations.

On Monday, the easyJet evening flight from Gatwick Airport to the Rock was cancelled but all other flights operated as normal.

On Tuesday, the easyJet morning flight from Bristol Airport to Gibraltar was also cancelled but all other flights operated as normal.

Gibraltar Airport handled 2309 passengers over the last two days, which No.6 Convent Place said was considered “as one of the busiest periods of the year”.

But with the knock-on impact of the fault expected to last several days, passengers were urged to exercise caution and track their flights closely.

Air Terminal Director Terence Lopez said: “While I don’t like seeing any flights being cancelled, I think we have been extremely lucky.”

“Many other airports have suffered immensely while Gibraltar Airport has seen only one flight cancelled on each day.”

“Of course, we understand those that have been affected will find it extremely frustrating.”

“My advice would be to keep on checking the airline websites for updated information before starting your journey, check for any emails or text messages they may have sent you and plan ahead for possible disruption especially if travelling with children or have onward travel.”

The experience of most passengers flying to and from Gibraltar was in stark contrast to chaotic scenes in UK airports and around Europe.

Holidaymakers stuck in the UK and abroad described their frustration, as some had no idea when or how they would get to their destination.

UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper said it was the worst incident of its kind in “nearly a decade” and announced an “independent review” will be carried out.

The issue started on Monday, when more than a quarter of flights at UK airports were cancelled.

ATC provider National Air Traffic Services (Nats) suffered what it described as a “technical issue” preventing it from automatically processing flight plans.

This resulted in flights to and from UK airports being restricted while the plans were checked manually.

Nats said at 3.15pm on Monday the problem was resolved, but disruption continued into Tuesday as many aircraft and crews were out of position.

Analysis of flight data websites by the PA news agency shows at least 281 flights – including departures and arrivals – were cancelled on Tuesday at the UK’s six busiest airports.

This consisted of 75 at Gatwick, 74 at Heathrow, 63 at Manchester, 28 at Stansted, 23 at Luton and 18 at Edinburgh.

Many other flights were significantly delayed.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told broadcasters: “I know people will be enormously frustrated by the disruption that’s impacting them.”

“Thankfully things like this are rare and the issue itself was fixed in a matter of hours, but the disruption obviously is continuing and will last for a little while longer.”

“The Transport Secretary is in constant dialogue with all the industry participants, he will be talking to airlines specifically later today and making sure that they support passengers to get home as quickly as possible.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper told GB News: “This was a technical fault. We do not think this was a cybersecurity incident.

“And what will happen now with an incident of this magnitude is there will be an independent review.

“The Civil Aviation Authority will be putting together a report in the coming days, which obviously I will take a look at to see whether there are lessons to learn for the future, to see whether we can reduce the impact of this again.

“It’s nearly a decade since there was a significant issue like this.

“We want to make sure it doesn’t happen again, because of all the disruption that’s been caused to passengers across the country.”

An unprecedented ATC systems failure in December 2014 led to widespread disruption at airports.

In relation to the latest incident, Rob Bishton, interim chief executive at regulator the Civil Aviation Authority, said: “As part of our regulatory oversight of its activities, we continue to engage with Nats, and once its investigation is fully complete an incident report will be provided to the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

“The report’s outcomes will then be shared with the Secretary of State for Transport.”
Aviation analytics company Cirium said 790 departures and 785 arrivals were cancelled across all UK airports on Monday.

That was equivalent to around 27% of planned flights and means around a quarter of a million people were affected.

PA contributed reporting for this article.

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