British Airways’ ‘Power Surge’ Claim Shut Down by IT Experts

The huge IT failure that grounded British Airways’ flights across the UK and caused 75,000 passengers serious delays over a busy bank holiday weekend has proven to be a huge problem for BA.

Damaging their stellar reputation for customer service and wiping an eye-watering £170m off the share price of their parent company IAG, British Airways have been bombarded with calls by those seeking an explanation as to what happened.

Up until now, British Airways have suggested that a “power surge” was to blame. BA’s chairman and chief executive, Alex Cruz, said on Monday that the surge was “so strong that it rendered the back-up system ineffective”. But multiple data centre designers have told the Guardian that a power surge would not be able to bring down a data centre, let alone a data centre and its back-up, which is what would have been required to cause the damage it did.

James Willman, chief executive of the data centre consultancy firm Future-Tech said: “It’s either bad design or there’s more to the story than just a power surge, you have something specifically that you build in to a data centre called surge protection, which is there to protect against exactly this incident. You also have an uninterruptible power supply, a UPS, and part of its job is to condition the power” – ie smooth out the peaks and flows in current.

“Between those and a quality earthing system, you should be protected from power surges,” Wilman concluded.

According to a report in The Times, SSE and UK Power Networks (the two companies who provide energy to the area), there was no power surge in the area at this time – let alone one which could do the kind of damage BT are alleging.

The news of the IT failure came just days after the NHS and other companies around the world suffered crippling attacks which held their data for ransom, drawing into sharp relief the lack of IT infrastructure spending being made by big companies around the world.

Andy Hirst, specialist projects director at the data-centre builders Sudlows said it was shocking just how many data centres had the resilience to deal with common problems, saying “A number of failures could have resulted in the downtime. Some organisations invest millions in IT equipment but seem to overlook the infrastructure required to ensure the IT equipment is kept running with no power outages.”

It’s worth noting that the airline industry is notorious for utilising outdated infrastructure long after standards have improved. This is for a number of reasons, including cost and the fear of downtime on their flights, but it remains a serious issue for companies in the sector.

Clearly then, there appears to be more to the story than BA are letting on, and with many still choosing to contact British Airways to seek an adequate explanation, this is a story that looks set to develop further.