British Airways IT glitch caused by human error, says IAG CEO

Airline’s datacentre power failure was caused by an engineer accidentally switching the power off and on again, says parent company

The British Airways (BA) IT crash was caused by an engineer disconnecting and then reconnecting the datacentre’s power supply, causing a power surge that led to the failure, according to Willie Walsh, CEO of the airline’s parent company, IAG.

The company has commissioned a full, independent investigation into the incident. 

“I am hoping that people will be able to learn from the experience we have had, and we will all be better as a result,” said Walsh.

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, the IT crash caused the airline’s check-in, baggage handling, booking and contact centre systems to fail on Saturday 27 May, resulting in the cancellation of most flights from Gatwick and Heathrow for two days.

In a statement to Computer Weekly last week, a BA spokesperson said there had been a “loss of power to the UK datacentre which was compounded by the uncontrolled return of power, leading to a power surge taking out our IT systems”.

According to reports from the BBC, Walsh told the International Air Transport Association’s annual meeting in Mexico on 5 June that the incident had been caused by an engineer who, although authorised to be in the datacentre, was not authorised to disconnect the power supply to one of the airline’s two datacentres.

“It is very clear to me that you can make a mistake in disconnecting the power,” Walsh told the conference. “It is difficult for me to understand how to make a mistake in reconnecting the power. 

“This is something I would not wish on anybody. When you see customers who suffered, you wouldn’t want it to happen to any airline or any business.”

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But some suggest it is too simplistic just to blame the disconnected power supply. Last week, the GMB union issued a statement blaming the airline’s decision to outsource some of its IT function to India in 2016 as a causal factor.

Also, unnamed sources told The Telegraph that if the uninterruptible power supply had been working correctly, power should have been restored in a controlled way. Instead, it caused the system to crash.

Speaking to Computer Weekly last week, Andy Lawrence, vice-president of research for datacentre technologies and eco-efficient IT at 451 Research, said that what makes the case all the more puzzling is that most datacentres are designed to cope with problems of this nature. “Some systems in the power chain clearly failed to perform as expected,” he said.

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