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10,000 Heathrow passengers hit

As many as 10,000 passengers at Heathrow were affected by the cancellations caused by last week's air traffic control computer failure, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has told MPs.

He said that the failure, at the Hampshire headquarters of air traffic control company Nats, caused 16,000 minutes of delays.

This compared with 126,000 minutes of delays when there was a computer glitch at the Swanwick centre in December last year.

Although Mr McLoughlin repeated his earlier statement that last week's delays were "unacceptable" he added that Nats was doing "an incredibly good job" and lessons had been learnt from the December 2013 disruption.

Mr McLoughlin was a ppearing before the House of Commons Transport Committee.

Earlier, Prime Minister David Cameron had said the Nats failure last week would be examined "very, very carefully".

He went on: "We need to have a very careful look at this and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will be running an independent inquiry into what happened.

"It seems as if it was some form of computer failure. Our skies and air traffic control are highly important business and we need to look at it very, very carefully."

The CAA announced early today that an independent inquiry will be established into last Friday's incident which led to widespread disruption at UK airports.

Mr McLoughlin said the average flight delay attributed to Nats was just two and a half seconds while the average in the rest of Europe was 30 seconds.

Over the weekend Labour MP Paul Flynn said that following last week's failure, Nats chief executive Richard Deakin should forego a bonus this year.

Mr McLoughlin told the committee that would be up to Nats' remuneration committee to decide.

He said that the Swanwick problems in December last year had led to Mr Deakin having a 12% reduction in his bonus. "I imagine this (last week's disruption) will be reflected in this year's bonus," he said.

Mr McLoughlin clashed with committee chairman Louise Ellman (Lab: Liverpool Riverside) over the nature of the CAA inquiry and who might lead it.

Mrs Ellman said that with the CAA involved and with Nats staff also likely to be involved, the inquiry "did not look very independent".

Mr McLoughlin said the inquiry would be dealing with a very specialised and technical area and there was a limited number of people who could carry it out.

He added: "I don't want to spend too much time worrying about who is going to be chairman (of the inquiry)."

He said he expected to be consulted on the make-up of the inquiry team and he was expecting them to publish an interim report by the end of January and a full report in March.

Mr McLoughlin went on: "The suddenness of this (the Friday failure) caused the problem. I don't think there should be any system breakdowns. We want to find out what went wrong and make sure it doesn't happen again."

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