NATS performance figures show continued traffic growth

02 October 2023

Air traffic figures for the first nine months of 2023 show the UK aviation industry is busier than it has been since the pandemic, although still slightly below the record 2019 flight numbers.

UK airspace remains some of the most complex and busiest in the world. NATS’ dedicated teams across the entire NATS business diligently and passionately support aviation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to keep the skies safe.

In the year so far, NATS has safely managed more than 1.8m flights in UK airspace, compared with 1.6m in the same period last year, an increase of over 12%.

This summer’s busiest day was 7 July with 8,010 flights, compared to the record-breaking 8,592 in July 2019.

  • While overall volumes are below 2019 traffic across the UK, many airspace sectors are experiencing demand in excess of pre-pandemic traffic levels
  • In July, we twice set new records for a 24-hour period over the North Atlantic, at over 1,800 aircraft movements; on July 7 we handled over 8,000 movements in the UK FIR for the first time since before the pandemic. Many of the airports where NATS provides service handled days close to, or exceeding, those of 2019
  • Through August and September, NATS handled an average of almost 7,500 movements daily
  • In September, traffic was 8% higher than in 2022
  • Significant disruption was caused to network operations by a flight planning sub-system fault on August 28. An independent review by the CAA is underway
  • Disruption to the Europe-wide system as well as in the UK was caused by weather events, including named storms Agnes, Antoni, Betty and Noa, and the Mediterranean wildfires.

Over the nine months, NATS handled more than 23% of European en-route traffic with the proportion of European delay attributed to NATS (NERL), as reported by Eurocontrol, just 1.7%.

In our airports business, resourcing issues have caused disruption to operations at London Gatwick. Both NATS and Gatwick Airport Ltd knew the ongoing resourcing challenge when NATS took over operations in the tower. We continue to work with Gatwick Airport Ltd to progress the agreed plan to restore long term resilience, which was key to transitioning the contract to NATS in the first place. The commitment, flexibility and professionalism of our entire team at Gatwick has been outstanding, as they seek to deliver, day in day out, in very challenging circumstances.

Juliet Kennedy, Operations Director, said: “This has been a busy summer and we are pleased with our overall performance and our responsiveness to the industry dynamics. Whilst we have had our own operational challenges in the past month, wider volatility has also been a significant factor, with air traffic having to cope with many external factors from weather and wildfires to the ongoing war in Ukraine and industrial action in Europe.

“As Eurocontrol said at the start of the season, the whole industry is seeing challenging conditions this summer with more constrained airspace resulting in unprecedented ATC delays, as well as further potential ATC strike action in Europe.“Our job, above everything else, is to keep aircraft safe in our skies and we have done that. Despite the variety of challenges they have had to deal with, our teams have responded calmly and professionally, each and every day throughout the year, as they always do.”

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