Lockheed and Altran caught up in air traffic fiasco inquiry

The failure came a year after 300 flights were cancelled due to problems with ground communications

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The Independent Online

The US giant Lockheed Martin, France’s Altran and Vienna-based Frequentis are among a host of international suppliers that will be dragged into a wide-ranging inquiry into IT failures at Britain’s air traffic control.

The investigation was announced last week after a glitch in a single line of code in one computer system resulted in more than 100 flights being cancelled and thousands of passengers stranded at airports across the country.

The failure came a year after 300 flights were cancelled due to problems with ground communications.

Richard Deakin, the chief executive at the part-privatised National Air Traffic Systems, was forced to deny that he had been “complacent” in a grilling by MPs on the Transport Select Committee last week.

The Independent on Sunday had earlier revealed that Nats had received a warning from its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, four months ago that “themes on avoiding a recurrence … lack detail and clarity”.

Both technical failures occurred at Nats’ £623m air traffic control centre in Swanwick, Hampshire.

The independent inquiry will look into the latest glitch and whether lessons from Nats’ review of last year’s problems were effective.

The CAA has also asked for “a review of the levels of resilience and service that should be expected across the air traffic networks” and “further measures to avoid technology or process failures in critical national infrastructure”.

This will result in the operations of private-sector contractors being examined.

Lockheed Martin, best known for its defence work, is arguably Nats’ most prominent supplier. Last year it was awarded a seven-year extension to a contract that involved supporting the data flight processing system.

Last year there was a server failure within a system connected to Frequentis’ voice communications system.

Altran, which recently helped Nats to develop a flight efficiency tool, is another of dozens of suppliers that could see work raked over as part of a thorough review of the organisation’s IT systems – though there is no suggestion that any of these companies are to blame for its problems.

Nats plans to spend £575m over the next five years on replacing antiquated systems that date back to before the internet age.

The inquiry will be asked to report in March.