Controllers managing flights after an incident

24 May 2013

NATS air traffic controllers are today working with airlines and airports to clear the backlog of flights following the temporary runway closures at Heathrow.

Controllers at the Heathrow Airport control tower, as well as those at other airports in the south east and at the air traffic control centre at Swanwick, have been co-ordinating the diversion and prioritisation of aircraft as part of their management of the situation.

Both runways were initially closed at Heathrow this morning after an 8.16am British Airways A319 flight to Oslo had a problem with one of its engines on departure.

It returned to the airport safely and evacuated all its passengers. However debris on the southern runway as a result of the initial incident and then the aircraft blocking the northern runway forced the airport to halt operations briefly.

The southern runway was quickly brought back into operation and the northern one returned to operations mid-morning.

The large numbers of aircraft heading into Heathrow at the time of the incident were diverted to Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham and other airports while others were put into one of the Heathrow holding stacks.

Each of these aircraft had to have new routes planned and relayed to them by NATS controllers at Swanwick who also liaised with their colleagues in airport towers to see whether they were able to take any diversions.

During the day NATS has held two telephone conferences joined by airlines across the world – including in the United States and Australia – to provide a liaison and update service for all those affected by the situation at Heathrow.

NATS Managing Director Martin Rolfe said: “We have well-rehearsed plans and processes in place for handling an incident like this but nevertheless it has been extremely busy for our controllers in Swanwick and at a lot of our airport operations.

“We are now working with Heathrow Airport and the airlines to manage departures and arrivals as best we can and to help them to clear the delays that built up as a result of this incident.”


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