Yesterday, commercial aviation in the United Kingdom was rocked by a network-wide air traffic control fault that resulted in extensive disruption. The timing was especially unfortunate, with many passengers returning from the late-summer bank holiday, making it one of the year's busiest days. The cause of the chaos remains unknown, but reports have begun to emerge regarding a particular theory.

Triggered by a single mistake?

Whenever there is any sort of event that causes widespread disruption in the world of commercial aviation, the major stakeholders are always keen to establish the cause(s). This is sometimes a relatively quick process, such as when drones are spotted in controlled airspace, as such disruption is caused by something visible.

However, the origins of disruption, such as yesterday's, where airport operations are plunged into chaos due to something less tangible like a network failure, can be harder to trace. Initial theories centered around the idea of a deliberate cyber attack on British ATC systems, although Sky News reports that this has been ruled out.

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London City Airport Digital Air Traffic Control Tower
Photo: London City Airport

Instead, reports have begun to emerge that that disruption might have been caused by something smaller and less deliberate. Indeed, according to the Times, it has been suggested by certain sources that an incorrectly filed flight plan by an as-yet-unnamed French airline may have been enough to inadvertently trigger the failure and subsequent chaos. A NATS spokesperson told Simple Flying that:

"A thorough investigation is now underway to understand the root cause of what happened, and we are committed to learning any lessons to minimize the chance of a similar incident happening again."

What's the situation today?

The UK's air traffic control systems are no longer directly suffering from yesterday's network failure, which was fixed, according to the BBC, within a few hours. However, the knock-on effects of the disruption have continued, with misplaced aircraft meaning that airlines are still unable to operate their full schedules.

Indeed, data from FlightAware showed at the time of writing that six departures from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) had already been canceled today, with another 82 delayed. Further to the north, the site reported this morning that Manchester Airport (MAN) had already seen three departures canceled and 22 delayed.

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London Gatwick Airport ATC Tower With TUI Planes In Front
Photo: Rich Higgins/Shutterstock

Generally speaking, the figures for inbound flights were worse at the time of writing, with 21 cancelations and 68 delays to services to Heathrow. London Gatwick wasn't faring much better, with 16 arrivals canceled and another 73 facing delays. Returning to Manchester, the facility had respective figures of 15 and 27 for arrivals.

Advice for disrupted passengers

With disruption continuing, passengers are advised to check the status of their flight before traveling. Those whose flights have been canceled have been offered refunds or alternative flights by certain carriers, although, with demand being incredibly high, passengers should act quickly when rebooking is required. Train company LNER is also offering free travel to impacted passengers today.

What do you make of the reports that an incorrect flight plan caused yesterday's disruption? Have you had to alter your travel plans as a result? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Sources: BBC, FlightAware, LNER, Sky News, The Times