The summer of 2018 has been the busiest for UK’s air traffic with over 700,000 commercial flights taking to the skies in the months of June, July, and August alone. This is estimated to be almost 6000 flights more than what was observed in 2017 for the same period, making 2018 the sixth consecutive year of air traffic growth after the global financial crisis.
The record-breaking numbers seen by NATS (National Air Traffic Services) are reflective of high-traffic levels across the entire continent. However, in terms of delay performance, the UK seemed to fare better.
Up until August 31st, NATS just about managed 25% of European air traffic, out of which, only 2.6% contributed to delays. The average delay for each flight was lower than a third compared to the average delay across Europe.
Busy, But Better Managed
According to NATS’ Operations Director Juliet Kennedy, this summer was an extremely busy one, but NATS’ teams did an excellent job managing the traffic levels. She pointed out that they managed to do this without experiencing the capacity issues that plagued the rest of Europe during the same period.
The Operations Director also credited the use of new technology and the changes done to the airspace over SE England for making the task easier. However, she was quick to point out that the same would be not possible if the traffic continued to grow and that the industry was already preparing for the next stage.
NATS believes that UKs airspace is a critical piece of the country’s overall transportation infrastructure, similar to the railways and the roads. Keeping in line with that belief, the agency has been spending considerable time, effort, and resources to create awareness about the importance of airspace via its ‘Sky by Numbers’ campaign.
The campaign also focuses on educating audiences about the need for significant updates with regards to how UK airspace needs to be managed and designed in order to avoid the capacity crunches that have affected Europe in recent times.
The UK has already experienced some of these issues. For instance, the Essex airspace, which covers Luton and Stansted, has seen traffic go up by 30% in the last four years. At these airports, conflicts between demand and capacity are more common than ever during peak hours.
According to Kennedy, NATS is currently working with airline partners and airports to decide on how to bring about the change. Luckily, their work has been made easier, thanks to support from the opposition and the Government’s own airspace modernization policy.
The expectation now is to bring forth options into the public for consultation by 2020 and hopefully, implement the solutions by 2025.
Europe has been having one of the worst periods in terms of air traffic. The continent saw about 19,302,219 minutes of delays from the start of 2018 to the end of August. UK airspace accounted for 499,565 mins of the overall delay time, which is just about 2.5%.