Airlines demand air traffic control body should compensate passengers
Airlines demand Britain’s air traffic control body should compensate passengers as flight chaos looks set to cost £100million
- Airlines are demanding that the NATS pay for the disruption that is its fault
Britain’s Air Traffic Control body and its boss are under pressure to pay for the flight cancellation chaos that is set to cost £100 million.
Tens of thousands of British families remain stranded across the globe as a result of the ‘staggering’ systems failure on Bank Holiday Monday.
Airlines are demanding a change in the rules – made possible by Brexit – to make the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) pay for the disruption that is its fault.
And there is pressure to strip its chief executive, Martin Rolfe, of windfall bonuses as a result of its role in the crisis.
His total pay and bonuses doubled to £1.3m in the financial year ending March 2023, while he also holds shares worth more than £2.4m.
Britain’s Air Traffic Control body and its boss are under pressure to pay for the flight cancellation chaos that is set to cost £100 million. Pictured: Travellers at Heathrow Airport today amid flight disruptions
Airlines are demanding a change in the rules – made possible by Brexit – to make the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) pay for the disruption that is its fault. Pictured: British Airways aircrafts at Heathrow Airport today
NATS allows executives to work from home on some days under an ‘agile working’ regime, however it refused to say if Mr Rolfe takes advantage of this.
The NATS chief blamed the meltdown on the fact computer systems could not cope with a single piece of faulty incoming data – rumoured to be a flight plan inputted by a French airline.
A leading industry figure has cast doubt on the explanation, saying ‘it doesn’t stand up’.
Willie Walsh, who is a former boss of British Airways and now runs the airline industry body IATA, said: ‘I find it staggering, I really do.
‘This system should be designed to reject data that’s incorrect, not to collapse the system.
‘If that is true, it demonstrates a considerable weakness that must have been there for some time and I’m amazed if that is the cause of this.’
Mr Walsh said it is necessary to wait for full evaluation, but he said: ‘That explanation doesn’t stand up from what I know of the system.’
The crisis has triggered calls for NATS to be fined and for the introduction of a new compensation regime to make it responsible for covering the cost of its failures.
Mr Walsh said it is wrong that the estimated £100m bill for cleaning up the mess, which includes refunds, laying on emergency flights and covering the expenses of marooned travellers, will fall on airlines.
‘This was completely outside the control of the airlines and yet airlines are subject to paying customers for delays, for cancellations, for looking after them, which is very considerable,’ he said.
‘It’s very unfair because the air traffic control system that was at the heart of this failure doesn’t pay a single penny.
‘This is what really frustrates and angers airlines.’
Tens of thousands of British families remain stranded across the globe as a result of the ‘staggering’ systems failure on Bank Holiday Monday. Pictured: Holidaymakers at Stansted Airport today
Around 1,800 flights have been cancelled due to the crisis, disrupting the travel plans of more than 250,000 people. Pictured: Passengers queue at Heathrow Airport in London today
He said Brexit means the UK is free to set its own compensation rules, adding: ‘In this case the problem was very clearly caused by NATS and they should pay.’
Asked what the crisis should mean for Mr Rolfe’s pay and bonuses, he said: ‘I have no doubt the board of NATS will be looking to hold the management of the organisation accountable for this failure.’
NATS is 49 per cent owned by the UK Government via a golden share, which gives it a major say in executive pay. A group of airlines, including BA, Virgin Atlantic and easyJet, own 42 per cent, while staff hold 5 per cent.
Around 1,800 flights have been cancelled due to the crisis, disrupting the travel plans of more than 250,000 people.
Many face long delays in getting home, missing deadlines to get back to work or school, coupled with punishing costs.
Mr Rolfe, who lives in a £2m home in Hampshire, apologised for the systems outage. An independent inquiry into what went wrong is due to report to ministers on Monday.
He dodged whether NATS should cover the huge costs, saying only that there are well established processes for working out who pays.
He also refused to respond to questions on his pay and bonus, saying: ‘At this point my focus is making sure we have recovered the system… We have been supporting and working very close with the airlines to make sure we get everyone to their destinations.’
The executive, who joined the organisation in 2012, told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: ‘I would like to apologise again for our technical failure.
‘NATS exists to allow everyone flying in UK airspace to do so safely. Our systems enable our air traffic controllers to deliver this service all year round.’
Stranded travellers have accused airlines of failing to offer them support.
In response, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said it is important for airlines to carry out their responsibilities to air passengers stranded abroad.
‘I know how frustrating the situation is for families where they are … It is important that airlines honour their obligations to passengers with regards to accommodation and flights to bring them back home,’ he said.
The crisis has triggered calls for NATS to be fined and for the introduction of a new compensation regime to make it responsible for covering the cost of its failures. Pictured: People gather at Heathrow Airport today
Rob Bishton, joint interim chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority, said airlines have ‘a responsibility to look after’ passengers waiting to come home, which includes providing them with meals, refreshments and hotel accommodation.
He told affected travellers: ‘If airlines cannot do this, you can organise your own meals and accommodation, then claim costs back.
‘We are engaging with airlines and know that more flights are being provided, but in circumstances where this has not been possible due to the volume of passengers, consumers can book their own alternative air travel and claim the cost back from their airline.’
Mr Rolfe received a total pay and bonus package of £1.39m for the year ending March 2023, which was up 96 per cent on the year before.
It included an annual bonus of £281,000 plus a second bonus of £555,000 under a long-term incentive plan.
NATS said: ‘Martin earned £1.3m; this is made up of a salary, annual incentive and long-term incentive.
‘In total, his earnings were broadly double that of the previous year, during which the company paid a reduced annual incentive and no long-term incentive. Martin also took a voluntary pay reduction during the Covid period.’
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