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NATS fails to implement recommendations to reduce IT risks

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May 26, 2015

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According to an independent report into the mega systems failure in December which left thousands of passengers stranded in Britain, the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) has failed to implement several recommendations to cut down on specific IT risks.

In December of last year, 121 flights were cancelled and about 505 more were delayed for 45 minutes, affecting about 10,000 passengers.

Furthermore, an interim report in February pointed to a critical failure in both System Flight Server (SFS) channels as the main cause of the issue.

According to the NATS System Failure on December 12, 2014, previous recommendations from a major outage only a year earlier had not been addressed by the agency.

These included a review of the industry’s ability to respond to service failures and identify required changes to NATS’ crisis management capabilities, resilience of systems, as well as procedures and service continuity plans.

Additionally, it had also suggested better interactions with the aviation safety body-– the Eurocontrol Network Manager, during a crisis of that nature.

"Despite being assessed by NATS as complete before December 12, it's very clear that neither of these recommendations had been addressed fully," said the report.

In an apparently unrelated move, last week NATS chief executive Richard Deakin announced he was stepping down. Deakin had been at the agency for five years.

Former business secretary Vince Cable had accused NATS of skimping on IT investment and leaving itself vulnerable due to its antiquated technology.

But Deakin denied the body had under-invested in its technology. The report also acknowledged that in the twelve years since the body was privatized, the company has invested somewhat less than had been planned overall.

The report also made a number of other recommendations, including a suggestion that NATS should consider introducing a formal Error Management System (EMS) to capture anomalous occurrences that fall below the safety event threshold.

Responding to the report, NATS said-- "We agree with the panel that it is unrealistic to expect that complex systems such as ours will never fail."

"To mitigate this, we will continue to invest in making sure that failures are extremely rare and that the impact of such failures on the travelling public are minimized as far as reasonably practical."

"We are pleased that the panel recognised the continued program of investment to accelerate the deployment of our next generation of systems," he added.

Source: The National Air Traffic Services.

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