Lufthansa’s Global Fleet Grounded by Just Four Snapped Cables - BLOOMBERG
(Bloomberg) -- Grounding one of the world’s largest airline fleets took little more than four snapped Internet cables in a sleepy Frankfurt suburb.
Deutsche Lufthansa AG passengers from Tokyo to New York were unable to board flights Wednesday after workers accidentally drilled through fiber cables buried some 16 feet below ground in Eschersheim.
The damage brought down Lufthansa’s IT systems, disrupting operations at its main base in Frankfurt and forcing Europe’s biggest airline by fleet size to ground hundreds of flights. While services have since been normalizing, the incident raises questions about how robust the carrier’s computer systems are.
“This should not be possible,” said Anthony Glees, emeritus professor at the University of Buckingham in England and an expert in aviation security. “Big international airlines should always have a backup system and it’s simply amazing that there wasn’t one.”
Lufthansa is conducting an internal investigation into why backup systems didn’t function, according to a person familiar with the matter. It’s possible that external IT providers were at fault for redundancy measures not working, the person said.
Still, passengers bruised by Wednesday’s disruptions should brace for more inconvenience. Ground staff at Lufthansa’s Frankfurt and Munich hubs are planning strikes on Friday in a move that will lead to hundreds of additional cancellations. The Verdi services union has called the one-day walkout due to slow progress in talks over pay and conditions for security and other staff.
Munich Airport will be closed to regular passenger air travel on Friday, with more than 700 flights affected, according to a statement from the hub’s operator. While special flights for the Munich Security Conference will go ahead, the strikes are still bound to complicate travel for delegates attending the annual gathering of defense and foreign-policy makers.
Lufthansa isn’t the first airline to see flights grounded due to IT system failures. British Airways in December experienced hours-long delays to its services after a failure involving to flight-planning software.
Wednesday’s disruption began with an accident on Tuesday around 7 pm local time, when workers handling a drill damaged four Deutsche Telekom AG fiber cables buried near a local train station. They also spilled concrete over the cables, further complicating repairs, according to a spokesman for the telecommunications company.
Lufthansa’s global flight operations center is located on the outskirts of Frankfurt’s airport, so damage to the communications links there ripple through Lufthansa ground IT systems across the world. In Germany, air traffic control had to divert landings in Frankfurt to other airports to prevent an overflow.
Lufthansa still is tallying the exact number of flights affected and the cost of it all. Deutsche Bahn AG, the state-owned railway company that had commissioned the works, issued an apology to affected travelers.
In total, Lufthansa has around 700 aircraft. Its stable of airlines includes its namesake brand and the national flag-carriers Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Swiss. The company also operates low-cost carrier Eurowings as well as other smaller brands.
Lufthansa is scheduled to report earnings for 2022 next month. In December, the carrier raised its full-year earnings target on rebounding air travel.
(Updates with Munich airport disruption in seventh paragraph.)