Overnight testing of software management procedures has caused massive disruption to the UK National Air Traffic Control system and led to widespread delays at most of Britain's airports.
A spokesman for the UK's National Air Traffic Services, the company that controls UK airspace, told ZDNet UK that the Flight Data Processing System (FDPS) at the West Drayton control centre crashed after overnight testing.
As a result, information about flights entering controlled airspace had to be input into the rest of the ATC system by hand, resulting in a drastic reduction of capacity and a temporary ban on take-offs.
Although the overnight testing was thought to have concluded successfully, the system subsequently failed at around 6 a.m. (BST) this morning, when it was restarted and entered an unstable mode. It was operational again at 6:45 a.m. and declared stable at 7:02 a.m. The resultant backlog of delayed flights is expected to have been cleared by midday.
A similar problem with the FDPS brought chaos to UK airports in 2002, with passengers suffering two-hour delays as a result of the glitch. That time, the problem was caused by an overnight software upgrade. There was no software upgrade this time, the NATS spokesman said, and no operating code had been changed. This is the first time that this class of failure has happened, and an investigation is now under way into the causes of the problem.
The UK government owns slightly more than half of NATS, with a consortium of airlines and employees owning the rest. The organization hit severe difficulties following the slump in air travel after 11 September. This problem was compounded by a catalogue of computer system errors.