Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

One Week, 4 near Misses as Air Traffic Control Struggles

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

One Week, 4 near Misses as Air Traffic Control Struggles

Article excerpt

Byline: HUGH MUIR

AIRCRAFT were involved in four near misses in British skies in only one week, according to a leaked report.

Officials say the string of potential disasters occurred last month. By contrast, there had been five near misses in the previous six months.

At the same time, it has emerged that instances of British air traffic controllers reporting excessive workloads have more than doubled this year.

Problems at the new pound sterling623million control centre at Swanwick, Hampshire are also having an effect. Delays attributable to air traffic control almost doubled in the last week of June this year compared with the same week in 2001.

The alarm is raised today by the magazine Computer Weekly, which has obtained a leaked report prepared by National Air Traffic Services (Nats).

Tory transport spokeswoman Theresa May said: "Passengers must be reassured that lives are not being put at risk. Nats must publicise these reports as a matter of urgency and tell us how they intend to address the situation."

According to the Nats leak, " overload reports" - when controllers believe their workload has been excessive to the point of compromising safety - were up from 20 in the first six months of last year to 44 in the same period this year. In addition, airlines faced 169,401 minutes of delays - the equivalent of 16 days - in the week ending 30 June, compared with 83,469 minutes in same week last year.

The publication also said that communications boxes used to train Swanwick staff have been withdrawn after an incident that led to a near miss. A Nats spokesman said new equipment is due to be installed next week.

He added that the average delay per flight was 2.4 minutes compared with a target of 1.4 minutes - due to factors including a shortage of staff, and reduction in the number of control positions manned - to ensure safety is maintained. "We will only handle the amount of traffic we can safely move through UK airspace," he said.

More controllers will soon join the service, added the spokesman. "We have 62 controllers under training and as soon as their training is complete the situation will ease. …

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