NATS warns airspace modernisation needed following UK’s busiest-ever day for flights

19 Jul 2019 by Jenni Reid
NATS imagery of the busiest ever day in the UK's airspace, July 5 2019

The UK’s main air navigation service provider has said that there could be 50 times as many flight delays as there are today by 2030 due to ageing airspace design.

National Air Traffic Services (NATS) made the warning following the busiest-ever day for flights in and out of the UK on July 5, which saw 8,863 flights in 24 hours.

NATS is expecting a second consecutive record-breaking summer, with most schools finishing for the long holiday today.

More than 8,800 flights are expected to depart and arrive in the UK on July 19, with 1,395 using Heathrow, 930 using Gatwick, 650 using Stansted, 460 using Luton and 270 using London City.

Outside of the capital, Manchester is expected to handle 670 flights, while Edinburgh is expected to see 460, Birmingham 350 and Glasgow 300.

The UK’s airspace handles around 2.6 million flights a year, which is predicted to rise to 3.25 million by 2030.

“Without modernising the airspace, the government’s own forecasts show the UK could experience 50 times as many delays as we do today by 2030, with one in three flights delayed by more than 30 minutes,” a NATS statement reads.

It says that while it is spending £600 million on new technology to boost its capacity, government and industry support is needed to improve the UK’s network of flight paths and air routes.

NATS is a public-private partnership which is 49 per cent government-owned and 42 per cent owned by a consortium of airlines including British Airways, Easyjet and Virgin Atlantic. The remainder is owned by NATS employees and airport operator LHR Airports.

Modernisation would involve redrawing flight paths “in a coordinated way” to better accommodate current aircraft and ease flows where air traffic has grown the most, according to the government’s website.

The UK’s airspace system has not been significantly redrawn since the 1950s, despite the rapid growth of air travel.

The government claims that as well as improving reliability it will help reduce carbon emissions and noise impact because fewer planes will need to queue in the air. It also says it will allow “respite routes” which distribute noise across different areas rather than focusing over one community.

However it will also increase airport capacity, something unpopular with both environmental campaigners and those living near current and future flight paths.

Numerous UK airports – including Bristol, Birmingham, London City, Stansted and Heathrow – are also seeking to expand their capacity through infrastructure upgrades and additions alongside reductions on flight limits.

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