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What caused the air traffic control meltdown?  

Welcome to Wednesday’s Early Edition from i.

It wouldn’t be a proper summer without serious travel chaos, but the meltdown of the UK’s air traffic control has been particularly severe. Transport Secretary Mark Harper said it was the worst incident of its kind in “nearly a decade”. Nearly a third of all journeys – more than 1,500 flights – were cancelled on Monday, and the knock-on effect hit tens of thousands more passengers. Some anger has been directed at the airlines, with calls to increase capacity and provide better communication. But what caused the problem? The National Air Traffic Service said a “technical issue” was caused by “some of the flight data we received”. Meanwhile, Downing Street has not ruled out that a French airline could be to blame. We’ll take a look at what we know, and how big the impact has been, after the headlines.

Today’s news, and why it matters

The handling of a major Tory housing policy announcement to rip up environment laws around river pollution in order to build more homes has been branded “cack-handed” and a “farce” by developers. Industry sources fear changes to housebuilding laws in England to stop environmental legislation blocking developments could fail because a poorly handled announcement has already triggered a major backlash from green groups.

The River Wye has become a poster child for campaigners wanting to protect Britain’s waterways. But progress in reducing the pollution affecting the river is at risk of being undermined, local campaigners fear, thanks to the Government’s decision to ditch nutrient neutrality rules for home builders.

Lessons in completing tax returns are being considered as part of Rishi Sunak’s plans to make maths compulsory until 18 in a bid to make the subject more practical, i can reveal. Reforms being looked at also include a review of the maths GCSE, as the Government fleshes out the PM’s ambition for a revolution in maths education.

Homelessness services are reporting a surge in the number of people they support in need of mental health treatment post-Covid, as thousands of people are trapped waiting months for care on the NHS. NHS waiting times for elective mental health treatment have surged since the pandemic, with the latest data showing that people still on waiting lists had been waiting an average of 12 weeks.

A police officer who was hit by a train while trying to save a man on the tracks has died. Sergeant Graham Saville, a 46-year-old response officer based at Newark police station in Nottinghamshire, passed away at Queen’s Medical Centre on Tuesday with his family at his bedside, the force said.

Air traffic control chaos – three questions:

What are the possible reasons for it? NATS chief executive Martin Rolfe said the initial investigations showed the outage was caused by flight data they received, and that there were no indications of a cyber attack. “Our systems, both primary and the back-ups, responded by suspending automatic processing to ensure that no incorrect safety-related information could be presented to an air traffic controller or impact the rest of the air traffic system,” he said. The Daily Telegraph reported that a single rogue flight plan could have been responsible for the IT meltdown. The paper quoted travel consultant Paul Charles who said: “One particular flight plan, whoever it was from, corrupted the whole system. Wherever it is from, it is an international embarrassment that our whole air traffic system collapsed because of one flight plan.” The paper said it confirmed with air traffic control sources that one piece of data was behind the outage. It has been suggested that the problem was sparked during the process of filing, uploading and converting flight plans. It was also reported that Downing St would not rule out the possibility that an incorrectly filed flight plan by a French airline may have knocked the system. Meanwhile, Mr Rolfe said that a preliminary report would be provided to the Secretary of State for Transport on Monday and that the conclusions of this report would be made public.

How badly have passengers been affected? Travellers have faced all kinds of disruption, from being left stranded at airports without food and drink, to having to fork out hundreds of extra pounds. “I think between the whole of us we have had to spend about £2,000 on accommodation, which is not anything any of us had planned into our finances” Emily Senior, a clinical physiologist for the NHS, told i. “We are not quite sure how much we are going to be able to get compensation.” On top of that is the problem of missing work. “I had to call my boss this morning and say we had not been able to get any flights back”, she said. “Working for the NHS, it’s doesn’t feel very good.” Read the full story here. Other passengers have lashed out at airlines for their perceived lack of help amid the situation. One group of friends from Hyde, Greater Manchester, told i how their Ryanair flight from Manchester to Ibiza was cancelled on Monday at the last minute. “We’ve spent a lot of money with them, you would hope they would take some responsibility,” one said.

What rights do passengers have? As Steve Robson reports here, airlines have a duty of care to passengers who are delayed or face cancellation regardless of the reason. Consumer rights relating to flights from the UK and EU airports are set by rules known as EC261. Under them, airlines must provide information to their passengers on their rights as well as care and assistance, such as providing meals, allowing for travellers to communicate messages, and providing hotel accommodation – including transfers to and from the hotel – for overnight delays. The UK Civil Aviation Authority advises that when a flight is cancelled, passengers must be offered the choice of a refund, alternative flights at the earliest opportunity, or re-routing at a later date, subject to availability.

Passengers wait at Stansted amid flight chaos (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

Around the world

A drone attack on an airport in the Russian city of Pskov has damaged two military transport planes, Russian news agencies say. Ukraine has not said it was involved in the latest attack, but President Volodymyr Zelensky has previously said that attacks on Russian territory are an “inevitable, natural and absolutely fair process”.

Hurricane Idalia is expected to make landfall in Florida as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm. “There is the potential for destructive, life-threatening winds where the core of Idalia moves on shore in the Big Bend region,” the National Hurricane Centre said.

The funeral of the Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was killed in a plane crash last week, has been held privately at a cemetery on the outskirts of his hometown, St Petersburg, his spokesperson said. An Orthodox priest conducted the service with several Wagner mercenaries attending alongside family and friends.

Australia’s prime minister has announced the date for a landmark referendum that would change the country’s constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and create an advisory body for them. The vote, which will be held on 14 October, will be the country’s first referendum since 1999.

The US government is challenging a planned expedition to recover items of historical interest from the Titanic. The legal battle hinges on federal law and a pact with the UK to treat the shipwreck as a hallowed gravesite.

Alcohol is often credited – or blamed – for providing its drinker with “beer goggles” that enhance the attractiveness of those around them; with mixed results. But a new study overturns this conventional wisdom – suggesting alcohol doesn’t actually make others seem more attractive but rather gives them Dutch courage, making them bolder and more likely to approach people they already find attractive.

 Watch out for…

 a blue moon. As rare as its name suggests, the phenomenon only happens every two to three years. Viewers should look up around 8pm (BST) on Thursday. 

Thoughts for the day

Some of the most vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric comes from non-white MPs – why is that? To criticise or even detest (as I do) these entryists is not racist, writes Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Luis Rubiales’s mother going on hunger strike is pure Catholic mum energy. The World Cup has become another time immemorial example of a story of female success ruined by a male messiah complex.

Screaming toddlers are ruining airline travel. I’d happily pay extra for an adult-only flight. Surely both types of fliers would be happier apart, asks Ellie Phillips.

‘It’s not fair for individuals who have spent their hard-earned money for a peaceful getaway, to have it ruined by a toddler tantrum,’ writes Ellie Phillips (Photo: Peter Dazeley/The Image Bank RF via Getty Images)

 Culture Break

How the F-bomb became pop’s secret weapon. Traditionally seen as immature, swearing has become a way for singers like Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo to show that they are authentic, writes Ed Power.

‘For Taylor Swift, swearing was a creative decision: her way of telling fans this was the next chapter. She really was on some new s***’ (Photo: Michael Tran/AFP/Getty)

 The Big Read

I was racially profiled by a dating app – and I’m not the only one. Radhika Sanghani wants dating apps to offer the option to “opt out” of algorithm-based suggestions.

Radhika decided to change her registered ethnicity to white/caucasian to see what happened (Photo: supplied)


Besiktas prepare to enter bidding for Man United’s Mason Greenwood. “If he comes to Istanbul and scores goals straight away, the boos will quickly go,” an insider says. “I think Turkish fans will accept him“.

Besiktas are considering a loan move for Manchester United striker Mason Greenwood (Photo: Getty)

 Something to brighten your day

My marriage needed a refresh so we tried the 777 method – it reminded us not to take life too seriously. Emma Reed and her husband were reminded of their shared sense of fun and laughter away from draining parental and work responsibilities.

Emma Reed with her husband on their weekend away (Photo: supplied)

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