Redesigning Our Airspace System

NATS expects to handle more than 770,000 flights over the United Kingdom by the end of the summer, beating last year’s figure by 40,000 due to the significant growth across many airports throughout the UK. The shift of consumer preferences regarding destinations is also creating major changes in the flows of air traffic in countries around the world. In addition, many airports are operating at levels beyond their design capacity, struggling to cope with growing passenger traffic.

Commenting on the challenges airports around the world are facing, Jamie Hutchison, Director at NATS’ Swanwick air traffic control centre, said: “Traffic growth is good news for the economy and means more choice for passengers, but it also puts pressure on the capacity of our airspace infrastructure. The UK’s airspace was designed decades ago and doesn’t allow us to take advantage of the technology on board modern aircraft that would raise capacity, and also reduce emissions and noise for communities on the ground.”

Congestion is a very visible consequence of an airport operating over capacity. Even the smallest holdups in the system can have a dramatic domino effect, leading to delays or even missed slots. One of the main reasons for congestion is that existing systems and technology don’t have the flexibility to deal with unexpected problems.

Many airport control centres have not kept pace with the complexity of modern air travel.  Airport administration today requires quick decision-making and response times and speed in those areas requires accurate, real-time information to improve the operational efficiency of the IT infrastructure and the adoption of smart technology solutions.

In the UK, NATS is currently spending in excess of £600 million on new technology to help boost capacity in airports throughout the United Kingdom, but that investment must be accompanied by a redesign of the country’s network of flight paths and air routes and this can only happen if there’s strong government support.

Emphasizing the need for such support, Juliet Kennedy, NATS Operations Director, said: “What is needed is a clear and stable UK policy, following the government consultation that ran earlier this year, and the recognition of the importance of our airspace as a critical part of our national infrastructure. It is essential that we are able to balance the needs of airspace users with the environment and, of course, with the communities who experience aircraft noise. Only then can we start the work that is so urgently

By taking steps now to integrate information and infrastructure, all stakeholders can harness the latest technology to make airspace more efficient as well as making journeys faster and more environmentally friendly.

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