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Computer glitch flight chaos clears

The chaos that hit UK airports today is clearing, with air traffic control company Nats declaring its systems are back to full operational capacity.

But flight mayhem at some of the nation's busiest thoroughfares could stretch in to the weekend.

Dozens of flights were cancelled and many others delayed after a computer failure at Nats' company headquarters this afternoon.

"Following a technical fault with the flight data system used by air traffic controllers at Swanwick, Nats can confirm that the system has been restored to full operational capability and a thorough investigation is continuing to identify the root cause," Nats said at about 8pm tonight.

"Although operational restrictions applied during the failure have been lifted, it will take time for flight operations across the UK to fully recover so passengers should contact their airline for the status of their flight. We apologise for the impact that this issue has had, and the delays and inconvenience caused."

The company has ruled out a power outage as the source of the glitch at Nats' state-of-the-art £700-million centre at Swanwick, Hampshire.

Airports as far north as Aberdeen and Edinburgh were affected by the computer problem. Other airports that reported delays this afternoon included Manchester, Stansted and Luton.

Budget flier easyJet said tonight: "EasyJet has had to cancel ten flights to and from London Gatwick, however all aircraft which were earlier diverted have all now continued to their original destinations. In addition, it is likely that other flights to and from the south of the UK will suffer delays this evening."

The airline said it had cancelled two Gatwick-bound flights scheduled for tomorrow.

Gatwick Airport said this evening: "Some cancellations should be expected and passengers are advised to contact their airline for the latest flight information.

"All departing flights were affected for a period but the situation is improving and we (are) hoping to restore a near normal service later this evening."

At Heathrow, a spokesman said there had been 70 cancellations out of about 1,300 scheduled flights.

"They're coming back to normal now," he said.

"The problem that we'll have this evening is that it'll take us a while to get through those flights that were scheduled to depart."

The airport has extra staff on duty and will be open later than usual tonight to try to get stranded passengers in the air, he said.

Any further flight cancellations will be up to individual airlines.

In a statement on its website this evening British Airways said: "While the system is slowly recovering, we anticipate the knock-on effects to take some time to resolve. Additional staff have been brought in to assist our customers and we have booked a large number of hotel rooms to accommodate those who have been disrupted."

Birmingham Airport had experienced delays but reported its air traffic was back to normal by 8pm.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin described the disruption as unacceptable.

He said: "Any disruption to our aviation system is a matter of the utmost concern, especially at this time of year in the run up to the holiday season.

"Disruption on this scale is simply unacceptable and I have asked Nats for a full explanation of this evening's incident. I also want to know what steps will be taken to prevent this happening again."

Press Association sports reporter Simon Peach, who landed at Heathrow this afternoon from Istanbul, said passengers on his plane had been told they could not have their hold luggage back yet.

"There are large queues at baggage reclaim, and there was an announcement that everyone on my British Airways flight could not have their luggage now. The airline will be sending it by courier to people's homes," he said.

"This is affecting people flying in as well as flying out and will cost the airlines money - it is not a cheap mistake."

Among those still queuing at Heathrow tonight was Kevin Read, 38, an HGV driver from Bristol.

He was there to pick up his wife Phennapha and baby son Brandon.

"They are flying back from Thailand and were supposed to arrive at 5pm," he said. "The board says the flight was cancelled but I heard someone say that it's been diverted to Copenhagen. It's a nightmare situation for my wife - she's travelling alone with a nine-month-old baby and all the luggage.

"There's a lot of Heathrow staff around and they are being helpful, but there's not many BA staff here and they are the ones with information to do with flights.

"I queued for an hour at the customer service desk but they couldn't tell me anything."

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