27 November, 2019

UK Air traffic numbers fall in October

In October, NATS handled 228,355 flights in UK airspace, 0.5% less air traffic when compared to October 2018. However, traffic for the year has increased by 1.2% overall.

Both of NATS’ air traffic control (ATC) centres, Swanwick and Prestwick handled 0.5% less traffic than in October last year, although growth continued in some areas of the operation compared to the same month last year, for example, transatlantic overflights were up by 10%. There was also growth at 5 of the 14 airports where NATS provides the ATC service, including two of the ’big five’ London Airports – London City and Luton.

NATS handled almost 24% of all the traffic in Europe in October with 99.3% of the 228,355 flights experiencing no delay from NATS. Year to date, the average air traffic control delay per flight is 9.5 seconds.

Juliet Kennedy, NATS Operations Director, said: “The collapse of Thomas Cook resulted in a marked decline in non-transatlantic arrivals and departures last month, which impacted air traffic figures overall. We would expect recovery in that segment in the coming months as other airlines begin to purchase the slots left by the tour operator.”

Aviation Index

NATS recently issued the results of a survey which demonstrated a total of 73% of respondents to NATS’ Aviation Index believe flying is safer than ever, up from 63% in 2018. Terrorism remains people’s biggest perceived risk, cited by 31% of people, ahead of bad passenger behaviour (21%) and technical faults (20%).

Only 12% saw drones as the biggest risk to safety, though 84% believe they pose a risk to flights during take-off and landing.

Only 2% of people saw air traffic control as the biggest risk.

Alastair Muir, NATS safety director, said: “It’s very gratifying to see the flying public growing in confidence about flying, and the faith they place in air traffic control.

“Fundamentally, safety is always number one priority and a huge amount of work goes into keeping it that way, not just at NATS but right across the industry. Behind every flight is a small army of people on-board and on the ground whose job it is to keep people safe.”

However, NATS has warned that while it would never compromise on safety, growing demand in the skies could see delays rise over the coming years as demand begins to outstrip airspace capacity.

Muir continued: “Safety is something we will never compromise on, but our skies have finite capacity and there is no doubt they are getting busier. Therefore, whilst we continue to take all appropriate steps to continuously improve, this will mean increasing delays to balance the demand against capacity and maintain safety, unless we can modernise our airspace to accommodate the growth in demand we’re seeing year-on-year.”

NATS handled a record-breaking 2.54 million flight in 2018 and expects that to grow to over 3 million by 2030. But the UK’s network of airways and flight paths were first designed in the 1960s and make it impossible to take full advantage of the capabilities of modern aircraft. NATS is playing a leading role in cross-industry plans to modernise the country’s airspace over the next five years, something that will allow aircraft to fly higher for longer, get more direct routings and enable more continuous descent approaches, something that both reduces fuel burn and emissions while maintaining safety.

The full Aviation Index can be found here.

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