Memorandum by the British Air Transport
Association (NATS 06)
NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC SERVICES (NATS) including
developments at both Swanwick and Prestwick and the Failure of
Systems at West Drayton
1.1 The British Air Transport Association
(BATA) represents the vast majority of UK airlines covering the
scheduled, charter and cargo sectors of the industry. Our members
(see appendix 1) produce over 95 per cent of the UK airline output.
1.2 We welcome this opportunity to inform
the Transport Sub-committee of our views on NATS, in particular
with relation to the latest developments on the Swanwick New En-Route
Centre (NERC), the New Scottish Centre (NSC) and the recent failure
of systems at West Drayton.
2.1 Our members have a high regard for the
professionalism of NATS' controllers. However, there is evidence
of poor management, particularly of major projects, resulting
in high costs and inadequate new infrastructure investment.
2.2 For many years both NATS and the airlines
have recognised the need to introduce changes to enable NATS to
manage growth and to improve the resilience of the service. The
introduction of these changes, particularly the management of
major projects, has not gone smoothly and it is these "management"
areas of NATS which most concern the airlines.
2.3 We believe that NATS requires an injection
of management skills together with certainty of continuing investment
funds, and that this can be achieved in an effective and timely
way through the planned PPP process. Any failure to proceed with
the PPP, for whatever reason, is likely to result in further delays
to change, and consequent increased likelihood that disruptive
failures, such as the one on 17 June, will recur.
3. NEW EN-ROUTE
3.1 This new facility is now due to be operational
in early 2002six years later than the original target.
The delay has been caused by problems in implementing new computer
systems and we understand that the systems changes now being implemented
are more modest than those in the original plan. The systems to
be used during the early years at NERC will still depend on the
core Flight Data Processing System (FDPS) which has been used
by NATS for over 20 years but which failed on 17 June this year.
3.2 We believe that there must be both systems
development and project management lessons that can be drawn from
the NERC project. Although we have been assured by NATS that lessons
have been learnt we have seen no list of changes resulting from
4. NEW SCOTTISH
The idea of a two-centre strategy for NATS had
been discussed with the airlines for a number of years before
the NSC decision was announced. Airlines are in general agreement
with the two centres strategy but have not had a chance to review
the plan in detail and have concerns over what look like very
high project costs. NSC provides an opportunity to improve resilience
in the medium/long term.
5. 17 JUNE 2000
5.1 The failure of the NATS National Airspace
System (NAS) computer software on the morning of 17 June and the
eventual recovery of NATS capability several hours later had a
disastrous impact on UK civil aviation.
5.2 Many scheduled airlines were forced
to make wholesale cancellations and the charter airlines, who
can't cancel, were still suffering long delays 48 hours later
as they tried to recover. Airline passengers were stranded for
many hours at airports or in aircraft on the ground at various
unplanned locations. Airports became gridlocked as they ran out
of space to park aircraft. Terminal buildings very rapidly reached
capacity limits adding further confusion to an already difficult
situation. Airlines struggled to keep passengers informed of the
latest position while desperately seeking creative solutions to
the loss of ATC service. But NATS could not predict recovery with
any confidence and communications were poor. Although NATS fallback
was a manual process, as far as we know no contingency plan was
put into effect. When systems capability was finally restored
there was no prepared recovery plan and so operations were returned
to normal using the best operational decisions available on the
5.3 The fallback to manual processes in
NATS, providing a theoretical 25 per cent to 50 per cent capacity,
proved totally inadequate in practice. The cost to BATA members
on 17 June and the days following was in excess of £8 million.
The cost to the UK's reputation in civil aviation was also significant,
though difficult to quantify.
5.4 The events of 17 June 2000 proved, once
and for all, the criticality of NATS to UK civil aviation and
vital need for robust contingency plans within NATS and jointly
across the industry. It also proved the importance of effective,
efficient and reliable computer systems to the delivery of NATS
5.5 However, the lessons of 17 June were
not just about NATS computer systems. They were also about the
need for a comprehensive approach to business continuity in a
vital part of the aviation infrastructure. The next unexpected
event may notprobably will notbe similar to that
which occurred on 17 June.
6. NATS COMPUTER
6.1 The success of NATS projects both current
(NERC) and increasingly in the future will depend on implementation
of new or upgraded computer systems. The systems (both hardware
and software) at NERC are to be upgraded around 2006 and the NSC
project also includes a large systems element.
6.2 The new systems to be introduced in
both projects will still be based on the core FDPS which is a
bespoke system developed in-house many years ago and not due to
be replaced for several years. The events of 17 June must put
in some doubt NATS ability to continue developing system enhancements
to this platform whilst maintaining a robust operation. BATA believe
NATS should urgently review its investment plans in this area.
6.3 NATS approach to systems development
has historically been based on in-house development including
significant basic Research and Development. The major projects
using this approach have historically run well over budget for
both cost and time.
6.4 This combination of a high dependency
on in-house development with a very poor record of implementation
and a continuing dependency on a very old core system provides
airlines little reassurance that NATS record on project implementation
will be any better in future or that the risks of another major
systems failure will be any lower, without significant change
in NATS' strategy.
7. NATS SERVICE
7.1 NATS published their 10-year Service
and Investment Plan (SIP) in April 2000. The plan covers the several
phases of a move to two centres including the move of Area Control
to Swanwick in 2002, subsequent upgrade of systems in 2006 and
further activity transfers culminating in the move of Terminal
Control to Swanwick in 2009-10.
7.2 In BATA's view the plan is dependent
on significant in-house systems development as described in 6
above and is punctuated with a large number of physical moves
and systems changes. The plan, in particular the systems development
element, is described by NATS as having "moderate or high"
risk. The SIP does not adequately address the potential business
continuity risks of the plan overall and there are no identified
costs associated with service resilience other than the obvious
medium term potential of the two-centre strategy.
7.3 In May 2000 NATS started a process of
consultation with the airlines and airports on the SIP. Our objectives
at the start of this process were:
(i) to understand the various elements of
the plan, in particular what benefits were delivered over time
and at what cost.
(ii) to explore with NATS the possible alternative
options that could deliver change in a more timely and cost-effective
(iii) following our experience with Swanwick,
to seek opportunities to reduce project risk and hence increase
our confidence in the planned delivery and improved levels of
7.4 The consultation process has yet to
provide the airlines with the level of understanding and involvement
we are seeking. Although NATS has recently improved its poor consultative
procedures with customers, BATA believes that there is room for
8. BUSINESS CONTINUITY
8.1 As described in section 5 above, the
events of 17 June have identified the need for urgent action on
Business Continuity firstly within NATS and then coordinated across
the industry. We feel that the impact of such an unforeseen event
was so significant as to make this issue a priority for NATS.
8.2 Many large businesses (including airlines)
are forced by their dependence on key systems and buildings to
assess the impact and likelihood of unpredictable events and put
in place resilience for key systems and infrastructure and a comprehensive
contingency plan that can be instantly activated under any emergency
situation. For example the charter airlines already have such
contingency plans in place allowing delayed passengers to be coached
away from airports when long delays are experienced.
8.3 The critical nature of NATS to civil
aviation in the UK, and therefore to the UK economy as a whole,
makes this responsibility even more important. Unfortunately a
failure at NATS does not result in significant financial loss
to NATS, only airlines and airlines' customers suffer the impact.
We think this situation is both unfair to airlines and their customers
and deprives NATS of the proper financial incentive to develop
resilience and contingency plans.
8.4 Nevertheless, we can report that, following
a series of meetings with CAA and NATS, BATA and its member airlines
will be working closely with NATS on the development of appropriate
business continuity plans.
8.5 We will be seeking significant progress
on this issue before the end of this year and would expect to
see fully developed and rehearsed plans in place well before the
operational opening of NERC.
We recognise that there is a continuing political
debate about the NATS PPP but strongly believe that the PPP is
an opportunity that must not be lost. The status quo is clearly
not acceptable, as the problems of 17 June, the lack of business
continuity plans and the delays to the NERC have shown. The UK
airline industry cannot continue to operate under the cloud of
poor ATC investment decisions which have resulted in increasing
delays. A radically different approach is needed which will guarantee
that the UK has a high quality ATC system, at reasonable cost,
as other countries already enjoy. At present the PPP is the only
realistic approach available to meet this objective.
6 October 2000