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Air miss verifies Swanwick fears

It appears the first concrete example has arisen of problems with the air traffic control systems at Swanwick leading to an air...

It appears the first concrete example has arisen of problems with the air traffic control systems at Swanwick leading to an air incident.

Mercifully, the result was not disastrous. Virgin has admitted that evasive action by the pilot of a commercial flight led to a female passenger falling and breaking her leg.

The systems interface problems that lie behind the incident have been detailed elsewhere in this week's Computer Weekly. This fresh news underlines the need to rule chance out of safety-critical software. Humans must be expected to make mistakes; it is the job of well-written systems to ensure these mistakes cannot lead to disaster.

Virgin's openness over this matter is laudable. National Air Traffic Services, which claims it is now more transparent than ever before, must follow suit and then look to improve the usability of its systems. More importantly, it must resist the temptation to blame controller error for this alarming incident.

This was first published in April 2003

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