UK air traffic controllers NATS warn of over-crowded skies – so they must “modernise” systems

The skies in the south east of England are among the most crowded anywhere in the world. And the government wants a new Heathrow runway, and expansion in numbers of flights at all other airports. But NATS, the UK’s National Air Traffic Control Service, says their ability to deal with this surge is being stretched to the limit.  The air traffic controllers warn that UK skies are running out of room amid a record number of flights. Friday 21st July is likely to be the busiest day of the year, as Brits take off for their foreign holidays.Air traffic controllers expect to manage a record 770,000 flights in UK airspace over the summer – 40,000 more than last year.  NATS can only deal with the stunning number of flights anticipated if they get drastic modernisation in the way aircraft are guided across UK airspace. Otherwise there would be delays (and the industry does not like delays – they affect profits). The DfT has put out a consultation on how it will expand the UK aviation sector, and has had to mention noise as one of the inevitable consequences of the intended increase in numbers of flights.  NATS needs airspace to be modified, with more concentrated flight paths. But the DfT, the CAA and NATS still have no clear idea (other than platitudes) how to manage the increased noise, without creating noise “ghettos” or noise “sewers” where the amount of aircraft noise is, frankly, above what people should be expected to tolerate.

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UK air traffic controllers warn of over-crowded skies

21.7.2017 (BBC)

The ability of the the UK’s National Air Traffic Control Service (Nats) to deal with this surge is being stretched to the limit, it is claimed.

Air traffic controllers are warning that UK skies are running out of room amid a record number of flights.

Friday is likely to be the busiest day of the year, with air traffic controllers expecting to handle more than 8,800 flights – a record number.

They have called for a drastic modernisation in the way aircraft are guided across UK airspace.

It comes as the government launches a discussion to shape the UK’s aviation industry for the next 30 years.

Air traffic controllers expect to manage a record 770,000 flights in UK airspace over the summer – 40,000 more than last year.

Nats director Jamie Hutchison said: “In the last few weeks we have already safely managed record-breaking daily traffic levels, but the ageing design of UK airspace means we will soon reach the limits of what can be managed without delays rising significantly.”

The Department for Transport estimates that, if airspace management remains unchanged, there will be 3,100 days’ worth of flight delays by 2030 – that is 50 times the amount seen in 2015 – along with 8,000 flight cancellations a year.

The government wants the public to submit ideas on a wide range of subjects, from airport bag check-ins in town centres to noise reduction targets.

The six themes it will consult on over the coming months are:

  • Customer service
  • Safety and security
  • Global connectivity
  • Competitive markets
  • Supporting growth while tackling environmental impacts
  • Innovation, technology and skills

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “Our new aviation strategy will look beyond the new runway at Heathrow and sets out a comprehensive long-term plan for UK aviation.

“It will support jobs and economic growth across the whole of the UK.

“Our vision puts the passenger at the heart of what we do, but also recognises the need to address the impacts of aviation on communities and the environment.”

The consultation paper will look at everything from the future of drone technology to baggage handling.

Meanwhile, airport capacity is expanding way beyond Heathrow’s new runway.

Friday also marks the start of a £1bn investment programme to double the size of Manchester Airport’s Terminal 2.

The number of planes taking off and landing at Stansted has gone up every month for almost four years.

Cardiff Airport has seen an 11% rise in traffic, and Luton is recording growth of 7% this year alone.

The problem of volume has been complicated by shifts in travel patterns.

Destinations including Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia have lost out to Spain, Italy and the US, which means major changes in the flows of traffic into UK airspace.

Nats itself is rolling out a new £600m ($747m) computer system known as iTec that could result in more flights and fewer delays.

But Juliet Kennedy, Nats operations director, said: “What is needed is a clear and stable UK policy that recognises how important our airspace is 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.”

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See also

Martin Rolfe NATS blogs illustrate the irreconcilable conflict between increased plane noise and community tolerance

Martin Rolfe, the CEO of NATS, writes blogs – putting the NATS points of view. He talks largely to an industry audience, but has to try to avoid irritating members of the public who find being noisily overflown unacceptable.  A couple of these blogs are below, and a response sent to some complainants.  The thing that stands out is the language used by the airspace management industry. They like to hide behind the complexity of the process, hoping this will obscure details and make it difficult for the public to understand. Both NATS and the CAA have the difficulty that they get their money from the airlines, and it is not in their interests to do anything other than benefit them. Both realise they have a real problem with the amount of anger, upset, misery and opposition there now is to exposure to high levels of aircraft noise. Both have a real problem in attempting to cram ever more flights, ever more flight paths – and concentrated flight paths – into the skies over crowded areas. Unfortunately for them, most of the UK – the south east in particular – is densely populated. There ARE no empty areas for flight paths to over fly in the south east. So the only thing on offer is to try and tweak the noise a bit, shift it slightly from one place to another, and make communities fight it out  between themselves as to who is to be worst affected. The concept of “enough is enough” is not in the mindset of the CAA or of NATS.

http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2016/06/martin-rolfe-nats-blogs-illustrate-the-irreconcilable-conflict-between-increased-plane-noise-and-community-tolerance/

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