Air traffic numbers heat up as summer holidays get underway

19 July 2019
  • UK flights to peak over summer months – over 8,000 flights per day
  • 2018 busiest summer on record; 2019 expected to be even busier
  • UK record of 8,863 flights in one day achieved earlier this month
  • Warnings of up to 50 times as many delays than today with 1 in 3 flights delayed by more than 30 minutes by 2030 as demand increases

NATS, the UK’s leading provider of air traffic control services, is preparing for what looks to be the busiest summer on record as schools across the country break up for the holidays.

On a normal day, controllers handle just over 7,000 flights a day in UK airspace, but this increases for the summer months to well over 8,000 as people jet off on their holidays. In fact, this summer has already seen the busiest day on record, with 8,863 flights handled by controllers on 5 July 2019.

Of the 8,800+ flights expected to depart and arrive in the UK today, Friday 19 July, more than 15% will be going through Heathrow (approx. 1,395 flights), while Gatwick (approx. 930 flights) and Stansted (approx. 650 flights) will be the second and third busiest airports respectively. Luton is expecting around 460 flights, and London City approx. 270 flights. Northern hub Manchester will handle around 670 flights, while Birmingham is predicted to manage 350 flights. Scottish transport hubs Glasgow and Edinburgh are expected to manage 300 and 460 flights respectively.

NATS predicts the busiest time of day for handling flights today will be 6:40am to 7:40am, with up to 650 aircraft in Britain’s skies during this single hour.

NATS has spent months planning for possible delays caused by strikes, staff shortages and bad weather across Europe in order to maintain safety and manage this surge in flights while minimising delay for passengers. However, the biggest challenge as traffic continues to grow, will be the network of routes in UK airspace, which is on course to be modernised to accommodate future growth.

Juliet Kennedy, Operations Director, NATS, said: “Our air traffic controllers right across the UK are working harder than ever to ensure that we maintain our safety standards and get everyone away on their holidays without delay, but we need to modernise our airspace if we want to meet growing demand and reduce the impact of aviation on the environment.”

Today, UK airspace handles 2.6 million flights a year, carrying over 285 million passengers. Government forecasts that will rise to 355 million passengers on 3.25 million flights by 2030 and without significant changes to the network of flight paths and air routes, 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.

Aviation Minister, Baroness Vere, said: “Just like our roads and our railways, it’s imperative we ensure our infrastructure in the sky is up to date, helping more people enjoy the benefits of a cleaner, quieter and quicker aviation sector.”

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