MPs have slammed the UK's air traffic management authority, NATS, for failing to invest in its IT infrastructure after a software outage caused widespread disruption to flights into London.
The incident occurred on Friday when a server failure forced the closure of all London airspace for several hours. A note on The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation website said a faulty server had caused the problem.
"There has been a technical failure at London ACC. Engineers are working on the problem and more information will be given when available," it said at the time.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show over the weekend business secretary Vince Cable criticised NATS for failing to invest in its infrastructure.
“Agencies like NATS ... have been skimping on large-scale investment for many years," he said.
"It has been penny wise and pound foolish. They’ve got very ancient computer systems, which then crash. The lesson for the future is we need to maintain a high level of capital investment.”
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin also raised concerns over the incident. "Any disruption to our aviation system is a matter of the utmost concern, especially at this time of year in the run up to the holiday season," he said in a widely reported statement.
"Disruption on this scale is simply unacceptable and I have asked NATS for a full explanation of this evening's incident. I also want to know what steps will be taken to prevent this happening again."
In response, NATS said that an independent inquiry will take place in conjunction with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to establish exactly what happened.
The inquiry will be overseen by NATS technical staff, a CAA board member and independent experts from fields including IT, air traffic management and operational resilience.
It will focus on five aspects of the incident, ranging from its root cause, to a review of the resilience of the systems in place and how similar events can be avoided.
Despite the criticism, the CAA and NATS dismissed claims that warnings had already been given to NATS about the potential for such an incident, as has been reported in some publications.
"The CAA was concerned that the initial report received from NATS into the last significant failure in December 2013 was insufficiently robust and required NATS to provide much more detailed information on the causes, handling and lessons learnt. This was completed to the CAA's satisfaction," said the CAA.
"Some media reports have misrepresented this as the CAA warning NATS of the potential for 'flight turmoil'. This was not the case."
The incident underlines the perils of failing to update systems, an issue that has been on the agenda throughout 2014 after support for Windows XP finally ended. Despite this many organisations are still using the outdated software.
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