Transport Secretary Mark Harper has ruled out a cyber attack after a fault in the UK’s air traffic control system grounded hundreds of flights.
Heathrow airport has warned flights face significant disruption after the National Air Traffic Services (Nats) crashed with passengers flying on Tuesday told to contact their airlines.
Luton airport also warned passengers that flights could be cancelled or delayed as the travel chaos continues for a second day after more than 500 flights were cancelled on Monday.
Travellers have been warned they face days of disruption, with bank holiday passengers stranded abroad and in the UK, with limits on the number of planes landing.
Mr Harper told Sky News: “Our technical experts have looked at it and are clear that it wasn’t a cybersecurity incident.
“So technical issues yesterday morning, something of this magnitude will be looked at independently by the Civil Aviation Authority. And there will be a report that comes to me. And we’ll look at that very carefully to see whether there are changes that need to be put in place.
“Something on this scale hasn’t happened for almost a decade.”
Airlines were legally obliged to provide accommodation, food and drink as well as return travel for stranded passengers, he added.
A Heathrow airport spokesperson tweeted: “We apologise for any inconvenience as a result of the NATS technical issues today.
“The issue has been resolved, however schedules remain significantly disrupted. If you are travelling on 29 August, please ensure you contact your airline before travelling to the airport.”
Gatwick and Stansted said they plan to to run a normal schedule on Tuesday, but advised passengers to check the status of their flight with the airline before travelling to the airport.
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and TUI were among the airports and carriers hit by the air traffic fault.
By Monday afternoon, 232 flights departing UK airports had been cancelled and 271 arriving flights, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium.
This equates to about 8 per cent of all expected departures and 9 per cent of expected arrivals, Cirium added.
Nats, the country’s leading provider of air traffic control, said at 3.15pm that it had “identified and remedied” the technical issue affecting its systems and it was working with airlines and airports to support affected flights.
It had been forced to apply “traffic flow restrictions” to maintain safety.
The failure meant controllers had to input flight plans manually, which they were unable to do at the normal rate.
Passengers stuck in the UK and abroad described their frustration, as some had no idea when or how they would get to their destination.
Rory Dollard, 40, cricket correspondent for PA Media, was stuck at Bergerac Dordogne Perigord airport in France and was told it might take up to six days before he and his family – his wife Joanne, 40, and children Emily, 10, and Arthur, eight – could return home to Skipton, North Yorkshire.
Lyudmila Hristova, 57, said her and her husband’s plans to attend her niece’s wedding in Bulgaria were “ruined” after BA cancelled their 2pm flight from Heathrow to Sofia.
And a German couple were considering returning home by train after their flight from London to Stuttgart was cancelled.
Myria Mebold, 36, also said that British Airways “didn’t know anything at all” when she and her husband asked about the situation and their flight.
Paul Charles, CEO of the PC Agency travel consultancy, told i that the impact would be felt for up to five days.
“So many planes are in the wrong place,” he said. “You’ve got 10s of 1000s of people who won’t be able to fly back on Monday evening. And it’s hard to get them on the next flight because those flights are already full because it’s such a busy time of year.
“So, it will take five days to get people back and make sure that the backlog is cleared.”
The Civil Aviation Authority said airlines must provide food, drink and accommodation if delays stretch overnight.
Under UK law, airlines must provide travellers with care and assistance if their flight is significantly delayed.
A reasonable amount of food and drink (often provided in the form of vouchers), A means for passengers to communicate (often by refunding the cost of your calls) and ccommodation, if you are re-routed the next day (usually in a nearby hotel) and transport to and from the accommodation (or your home, if you are able to return there) should be supplied by airlines.