Did BA system overheat in hot weather after airline laid off key engineers?
POOR maintenance and recent warm weather may have triggered the disastrous Bank Holiday meltdown in the British Airways computer system.
A decision to make key maintenance staff redundant – coupled with overheating computers – are likely to be factors in the fiasco, say union leaders.
The blackout of a BA computer data centre at Heathrow and the failure of a back-up system meant flights across the world were grounded.
As a result, some 75,000 people had their flights cancelled and many more suffered long delays.
Repercussions are still being felt today, with thousands of people yet to be reunited with their luggage.
Yesterday, worried investors wiped more than £500 million off the stock market value of parent company IAG, although it recovered most of this during the day.
The company also faces a compensation and refund bill that could reach £150 million.
Spanish chief executive Alex Cruz has blamed a power surge at a Heathrow data centre – essentially an air-conditioned warehouse holding banks of computers – for the collapse of the IT system on Saturday morning.
He said a back-up system that should have rescued the situation failed to come online for an unknown reason.
However, Mr Cruz’s explanation has been called into question by companies supplying electricity to Heathrow,
‘Redundancies came back to bite them’
who say they have no record of a power surge. The GMB union believes the real cause was cost-cutting, leading to a failure of maintenance at the data centre and a lack of staff to re-boot the equipment once it failed.
One theory is that the computers overheated because the air conditioning struggled to cope with the recent high temperatures.
The Daily Mail has learned that a small team of experienced engineers responsible for maintaining BA’s data centres and back-up systems were made redundant last year.
They were part of a group of some 700 computer and IT staff let go following a decision to save money by outsourcing work to India and the private firm Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
GMB national aviation officer Mick Rix said there was a history of maintenance and overheating problems at the BA data centres.
He added: ‘ At the top of the back-up facility are major airconditioning systems which keep the electrics and computers cool.
‘Because of the high temperatures last year, staff were having to hose the top of the building down to keep it cool. The fact that was necessary is evidence of serious under-investment.
‘BA has been busy getting rid of people, including people working in data centre maintenance who have been doing an extremely vital job, but it has come back to bite them.’
Mr Rix said the blame for the fiasco should be put at the door of BA’s parent company, IAG, which is run by Willie Walsh, and also owns Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus.
‘Over the last year and a half, the company has been going through a succession of redundancies and cuts. That has had a massive role to play in the problems we have seen over the bank holiday weekend.
‘The British Airways brand is being trashed which could have serious long-term consequences. No-one wants to see that.’
He added: ‘The truth is that it is not a British company any more. It is pretending to be a British company and is trading on Britain’s brand.’ Theresa May was asked yesterday if BA was worthy of being the country’s flag carrier.
She said: ‘It is up to them to sort their IT out and ensure they are able to provide the services people expect them to provide as British Airways.
‘I recognise the considerable disruption that it caused for all those individuals hoping to get away for their holiday or break and found themselves stuck in airports and unable to travel. We all feel for those people.
‘It’s important that British Airways has a compensation scheme for people who were travelling.’
BA was unable to comment on the claims made by the GMB union about maintenance problems and staff shortages. Instead, the airline continued to insist the problems were caused by a power surge.
This is at odds with evidence from the National Grid, SSE and UK Power Networks, who are responsible for electricity in the Heathrow area and said they were unaware of a power surge. Heathrow airport, which has its own private network, said there was no power surge on its system.
A BA spokesman said: ‘As we have said the power supply issue caused the collapse of our IT systems. It was not an IT failure. The data centre is manned by UK based staff.’
He said private contractors at TCS were involved in helping to restore BA’s computer systems.
Waiting game: Thousands of passengers still have not been reunited with their luggage