World Aviation Festival: Willie Walsh slams NATS outage report as ‘just rubbish’

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IATA director general, Will Walsh, has criticized the NATS air traffic system outage in the UK earlier this year, calling it a “disgrace.” The outage, which cost airlines £126m, was blamed on a rogue fragment of data inputted by a foreign airline, an explanation Walsh deems “just rubbish.” Despite this issue, Walsh stated that the recovery in the aviation sector is “gathering pace.” He also mentioned that high fuel prices and the slow rebound in Asia pose challenges for the industry. Walsh dismissed the UK government’s recent net zero commitment water-down and criticized the idea of airlines being penalized for failing to use sustainable aviation fuels that do not yet exist.

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During this week’s World Aviation Festival, Will Walsh, the director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), expressed his dissatisfaction with the NATS air traffic system outage that occurred in the UK earlier this year. Describing it as “a disgrace,” Walsh dismissed the explanation provided in the report, which suggested that a rogue fragment of data from a foreign airline caused the system failure, as “just rubbish.” This incident reportedly cost airlines an estimated £126m.

Walsh acknowledged that occasional issues like this can arise but emphasized that they should be considered rare and unacceptable. Despite such setbacks, he indicated that the recovery of the aviation sector is gaining momentum, although some challenges remain. These include airspace closures and a slow rebound in Asia, particularly in China.

According to Walsh, industry leaders remain optimistic about the outlook for this year based on current figures and CEO feedback. He also mentioned that airlines have previously coped with high fuel prices exceeding $100 and highlighted the importance of the crack spread, which represents the difference between crude oil prices and the prices of derived products like jet fuel. Walsh noted that this year’s crack spread is especially high, although levels of around 34% have been seen in the past. He added that despite increased cost pressures, demand for aviation remains strong.

Commentary: The NATS air traffic system outage in the UK was a significant incident that highlighted the vulnerabilities within the aviation industry. As the director general of IATA, Will Walsh’s criticism reflects the frustration felt by industry leaders when critical systems fail due to seemingly avoidable reasons. The cost of such disruptions is not only financial but can also affect the reputation and trust in the aviation industry.

Fun Fact: The NATS air traffic system outage in the UK was the longest failure of its kind in a decade, lasting for several hours and causing widespread disruptions to flights across the country.

Regarding the UK government’s recent steps to water down its net zero commitment, Walsh dismissed its significance, considering it more driven by political motives ahead of the next General Election. He also expressed concern about rising fuel prices and rejected the idea of penalizing airlines for failing to meet targets for the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). Walsh argued that mandating the purchase of something that is not readily available is unrealistic and suggested a more practical approach to promoting the production of SAF.

Commentary: The discussion around climate change and sustainable practices within the aviation industry continues to evolve. While the efforts to incentivize the use of sustainable aviation fuels are commendable, the practicality of implementing such measures must be carefully considered. It is crucial for governments and industry players to work together in finding feasible solutions that promote both environmental responsibility and economic viability.

Fun Fact: Sustainable aviation fuels, often derived from renewable feedstock like algae or waste oils, can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional jet fuels. However, their production volumes and availability still need significant scaling up to meet the demands of the aviation industry.

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