Delays linger after system failure hits UK flights

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Thousands of UK travellers endured flight chaos today after a national air traffic control system failed.

Thousands of travellers endured flight chaos today after a national air traffic control system failed.

Cancellations and long delays hit UK airports after the early–morning glitch in a National Air Traffic Services' (Nats) computer system at West Drayton in west London.

As airports struggled to clear the backlog of flights, it emerged that the West Drayton system was around 30 years old and not due to be replaced until 2010–11.

It was a similar failure at West Drayton that led to severe disruption to flights in June 2000.

Today's problem, which started at around 6am, came after a test of the system.

Computer experts were questioning why Nats had carried out the test on an operational system rather than on a simulated system.

Nats said the system was fully operational again by 7am but passengers had to contend with a morning of travel misery.

Delays of up to two hours were commonplace and some flights were cancelled. Among those held up at Heathrow was former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke.

Nats chief executive Richard Everitt said: "The system has to be upgraded.

"We are doing a major upgrades later in the year. Morale is not low at the centre. I would like to apologise to all passengers and tell them that we are doing our best to minimise our disruption to them."

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling insisted Britain's air traffic control was "very good" compared with other countries and said the Government was investing in improvements to the system.

He went on: "If you want to know what is wrong with transport in this country it is that over decades successive governments did not spend enough on the infrastructure and air traffic control is no different."

Mr Darling said money was now being invested in Nats and delays caused by air traffic control had "come down dramatically over the last few years".