The system went down for 20 minutes Wednesday morning, causing numerous delays and flight cancellations at London's beleaguered Heathrow airport. Air-traffic controllers use the processing system to route aircraft through Britain's heavily trafficked skies. The system uses custom software running on an IBM S/390 server. The spokesman says NATS IT workers haven't yet determined whether a hardware or software problem was to blame for the failure. The system also experienced a major outage in 2000 and a more minor failure in June of last year.
NATS, along with other European air-traffic authorities, is in the early stages of planning for a $1.8 billion upgrade to its computerized air-traffic-control systems. The spokesman says specifications for the new system haven't yet been published. NATS insists that Wednesday's outage didn't compromise air safety.
Heathrow was hit hard earlier this month when workers at the company that provides catering services for British Airways staged a wildcat strike. BA and Gate Gourmet are in negotiations aimed at preventing a recurrence. The strike forced BA to temporarily cancel all of its flights in and out of Heathrow.