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Air traffic control chaos: How human error can lead a tiny glitch to spiral out of control

September 7, 2023

Several thousand passengers were stranded at airports, hotels and connection depots following the recent system-wide glitch of the UK air traffic control systems. Some passengers were told of flight cancellations in advance, so they could make alternative travel plans.

Unfortunately, following some 2,000 flight cancellations over 48 hours, most passengers were either sleeping on airport floors or sitting on planes which were unable to take off. So what was the glitch and how did it create so much chaos?

The problems appear to have been caused by unusual data in a flight plan submitted into the National Air Traffic Services (Nats) system by a French airline. This data couldn’t be processed because it wasn’t recognized by computers.

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