London’s infamous plane ‘stacking’ system may be abolished: Aircraft could queue to land in straight lines – with priority given to the largest planes

  • New system has been proposed by Nats, which handles air traffic control
  • It would bring an end to the current stacking system with an orderly queue
  • Instead, planes would hold in a linear pattern and jump the queue
  • Priority would be given to planes with higher passenger counts, said Nats 

Heavily congested airspace around London could be reformed under an ambitious proposal that aims to cut down on the number of missed connecting flights by giving priority to larger planes – and it would mean the end of the infamous ‘stacking’ system.

The proposal by Nats, which handles the UK’s air traffic control services, would boost the number of flight paths and change the way aircraft circle over south-east England once they’ve joined a queue to land at airports such as Heathrow and Gatwick.

Landing priority would be given to planes with higher passenger counts – usually international flights with travellers who have onward connections – at the request of airlines, allowing them to jump the queue and land ahead of aircraft that have been waiting longer.

Under a linear stack system, planes would circle at an identical altitude and be able to jump the queue

Nats also wants to significantly increase the number of flight paths over south-east England – a move that will likely be met by people who have concerns about noise and pollution.

Its proposal would see the end of a stacking system that many passengers have experienced before landing at one of London’s busier airports, the Times reported.

In that system, planes fly in circles, around 10 nautical miles wide, while descending from an altitude of around 11,000ft. Planes must be at least 1,000ft apart vertically, and they land in the order the joined the queue.

However, under the proposed holding system, planes would fly in a linear pattern at an identical altitude, around 13,000ft.

A new holding pattern for incoming flights would give priority to planes with a large number of passengers

The circle would be wider – at 20 to 25 nautical miles – and air traffic controllers would choose the next plane to land, regardless of when it entered the queue.

If a modern system isn’t adopted in the next decade, said Martin Rolfe, chief executive of Nats, the average delay to each plane caught in congested airspace will increase to 15 or 20 minutes, coinciding with an increase in air traffic.

He told the Times: ‘We are trying to run 2.5million flights a year through B-roads in the sky.

‘The airspace that we have over the UK really was designed in the ‘50s and ‘60s for the sort of aircraft that you now go to a museum to look at.’

Last year, Nats revealed that it was considering a new air traffic system that would impose speed limits in the sky to manage traffic flows and avoid jams.