Who should foot the £100m bill from last week’s ATC failure?

by | Sep 4, 2023 | Airlines

Last week’s ATC failure caused widespread chaos with over a quarter of UK flights cancelled, causing disruption for thousands of passengers on one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.

Although the problem originated in the National Air Traffic Services’ (Nats), it is estimated the cost to airlines will be around £100 million.

As the airlines offer changes or refunds, attempting to rectify the situation for their passengers, the question arises – who should be footing the bill?

Willie Walsh, Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) argues this burden should not fall to airlines.

In an interview with Sky News, Walsh asserted:

“In this event, as we’ve seen in many other events its very clear that the cause of this problem was completely outside the control of airlines and yet they will be responsible for carrying the bill. We believe [compensation should be paid] by the people who caused the problem and in this case the problem very clearly caused by Nats. They should be held to account and they should pay for the expenses that have been incurred.”

IATA’s Director General pointed to the incident as a great example of why the passenger compensation scheme needs to be rebalanced, explaining:

“This regulation that was introduced in 2004 […] is very different to what people had expected when it was first introduced. When that was introduced it was thought that airlines were responsible for delays and therefore should bear the cost associated with that.”

The financial burden of major travel-related disturbances is a significant challenge for airlines. Airlines incur huge costs getting displaced passengers to their respective destinations, paying for refunds, expenses, and more all whilst trying to maintain their regular flight schedule. Do you think it is airlines that should pay for this latest disruption?


Later this month at World Aviation Festival, the IROPS summit sessions will look at customer recovery as well as prediction and prevention. Here, the importance of prioritising communication with passengers and the human aspect of disruption is explored whilst also touching on the applications of technology. To hear from speakers from airlines including AirAsia, TAP Air Portugal, and United get your ticket now.