Recent U.K. airport technical failure was not a deliberate attempt to stop people from traveling

By: Pallavi Sethi
September 6 2023

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Recent U.K. airport technical failure was not a deliberate attempt to stop people from traveling


The Verdict False

Britain's National Air Traffic Services' investigation confirmed the cause behind the recent technical failure.

Claim ID 7b1d8732


On August 28, 2023, Britain's National Air Traffic Services (NATS) experienced a "technical failure" in their flight planning system, resulting in significant travel disruptions. This issue caused the cancellation and delay of thousands of flights, impacting millions of travelers. Following this incident, prominent U.K.-based conspiracy theorist Katie Hopkins linked the disruption to an alleged deliberate attempt to prevent people from traveling. She labeled the climate crisis a "climate hoax" and asserted that those who "want to take away our freedoms" were responsible for the flight shutdown. Hopkins also claims that all regional U.K. airports will be shut down by 2030. This belief aligns with a widely debunked conspiratorial narrative known as the New World Order (NWO).

The cause of the technical failure

After conducting a preliminary investigation into the cause of the technical outage, NATS issued a statement explaining that the problem arose within a sub-system responsible for processing flight plans, the Flight Plan Reception Suite Automated-Replacement (FPRSA-R). NATS attributed the issue to "an extremely rare set of circumstances" in which a flight plan contained two separate waypoint markers outside U.K. airspace but with the same name. Waypoint markers, often defined by latitude and longitude coordinates, are specific geographical points pilots use to navigate their aircraft along a planned route. These waypoints serve as reference points in the sky. They are "pronounceable and distinct" to pilots and controllers.

The issue caused a central system and its backup to enter "a fail-safe mode." As a result, the air traffic system had to process flight plans manually, and the malfunction in the automation system caused "traffic flow restrictions." In addition, NATS clarified that this was not a cyber-attack. Logically Facts has contacted NATS for comment.

False belief surrounding U.K. airports

The mistaken belief that all U.K. airports will close by 2030 initially emerged during the pandemic following the U.K. Fires research program – financed by the U.K. Government – publishing a report titled "Absolute Zero" in November 2019. The report outlined possible measures for achieving a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, emphasizing resource efficiency in the U.K.'s Future Industrial Strategy. As one of many proposals, a consortium of experts suggested shutting down all airports by 2049 and replacing them with rail connections. This was merely a suggestion, and the government has no plans to implement it.

However, the report has since been misrepresented by social media users, leading some to believe that airport closures were imminent. Others associated the report with the World Economic Forum and various conspiracy theories, such as the NWO, suggesting that elites were trying to control people and strip away their freedoms. 

The recent technical outage and conspiracy theories

In the wake of the recent technical outage that resulted in significant travel disruptions, conspiracy theories have flourished. While the incident was a technical glitch within the air traffic control system, bad-faith actors claim it was not just a malfunction. Instead, they suggest it is part of a broader global agenda to discourage people from traveling. Some argue that the outage was deliberately engineered to make air travel less attractive and convenient.

These conspiracy theories often gain traction in an environment of uncertainty, where people seek explanations for unexpected disruptions in their lives. 

The verdict

Following an investigation, NATS has confirmed that recent flight disruptions in the U.K. were caused by a technical failure in the flight planning system, and was not a deliberate effort to prevent people from traveling. Therefore, we have rated this claim as false.

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