BERLIN (AP) — A regional air traffic control system outage sharply limited flights around much of northern Europe Friday, causing delays for tens of thousands of passengers aboard some 700 flights.

The computer outage at the Maastricht, Netherlands, radar facility of the continent's Eurocontrol system lasted about an hour and a half, Eurocontrol spokeswoman Lucia Pasquini said.

Delays across the region were expected to last throughout the evening.

Eurocontrol, based in Brussels, Belgium, estimated that 700 flights would be affected in total and delays were expected to add up to 15,000 to 20,000 minutes, Pasquini said.

However, an online map of flights at 1430 GMT (10:30 a.m. EDT) showed delays of around 45 minutes for 1,036 flights landing, taking off from, or transiting Holland, northern and western Germany and parts of Belgium and Luxembourg.

The problem in the radar facility halted flights above 7,500 meters (24,606 feet), said Axel Raab, spokesman for German air traffic control. Pilots could choose to fly at lower altitude, although that airspace could clog quickly, Raab said. The Maastricht facility handles around 5,500 flights a day.

Fred Koennemann, a spokesman for Eurocontrol in Maastricht, said the system experienced a computer problem at about 1250 GMT, started recovering gradually about half an hour later and was back to full capacity at 1430 GMT.

Air traffic controllers there usually handle about 200 flights an hour, but the capacity was temporarily down to 60 flights an hour, he said.

While the delays will be felt In Europe throughout Friday evening, "tomorrow everything will be back to normal," Koennemann said.

Eurocontrol initially advised operators that capacity in the airspace controlled from Maastricht had been cut by 85 percent because of the outage, and that delays could reach 200 minutes.

Normally, when air traffic is under radar control, the distance between planes at any given flight level is five nautical miles.

Radar failures cause delays because they force air traffic controllers to increase the separation between planes up to five minutes, or about 40 nautical miles, thus reducing flow through the affected air space.

Nearly 30,000 flights were using European airspace Friday. Officials in Britain, Poland, Austria, Italy and the Baltic countries said their airspace was not affected.


Associated Press Writers Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Belgium and Kirsten Grieshaber in London contributed to this report.