Tomasz Zajda - stock.adobe.com

Heathrow flights grounded by IT failure

Aircraft unable to take off at airport following failure of an IT system at one of BA's suppliers, that even led to the temporary closure of the control tower

Passengers flying from Heathrow Airport face uncertainty after an IT problem caused flights to be cancelled and delayed, and the air traffic control tower to be closed.

The IT problem occurred on Wednesday 18 July, leading to flights being grounded for multiple airlines. It was caused by a systems failure at a BA supplier.

BA told Computer Weekly that the problems were not related to BA’s own IT systems. “This was not a BA IT problem – there was an IT supplier system issue affecting a number of airlines,” it said.

“We are doing everything we can to help customers whose travel plans were disrupted yesterday from a supplier system issue affecting a number of airlines, and the temporary closure of Heathrow Airport’s air traffic control tower.

“The supplier has resolved the issue, our flights are operating today, and we have apologised to our customers for the inconvenience.”

A spokesperson at Heathrow confirmed the problems were caused by a BA supplier.

When the problems arose on Wednesday, one passenger tweeted: “Passengers arriving at Heathrow T5 (I’m one of them) are being told that another computer system failure means no BA flights are taking off. Passengers being told to go and book hotels or seek alternative travel.”

Mention of a supplier will inevitably draw BA’s IT outsourcing strategy into the debate.

The airline uses multiple suppliers and has a huge outsourcing contract with Indian IT services giant Tata Consultancy Services. In 2016, BA said: “IT services are now provided globally by a range of suppliers and this is very common practice across all industries and the UK government.”

In May last year, BA was counting the cost of a major two-day IT systems outage that grounded flights at Heathrow and Gatwick, affecting the travel plans of more than 75,000 passengers.

A power outage at a local datacentre affected flights from both airports. BA warned passengers not to travel to either airport until the issues were resolved.

At the time, BA confirmed that the IT underpinning the company’s check-in, baggage handling, booking, contact centres and other operational systems had been affected by a datacentre power supply problem.

Read more on IT for transport and travel industry

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If the problem was airline-specific (ie: BA effected by one of it's IT suppliers, but Aer Lingus, BMI, KLM, FlyBe, Etihad Airways, Air India, etc were *not* effected), why was the control tower closed? That would also have effected all the other airlines operating out of Heathrow.
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