Warning that UK skies are overcrowded

Air traffic controllers are warning that UK skies are overcrowded as airports gear up for the busiest days of the summer, when the schools break up and families head off on holidays abroad.

The 21st July is likely to be the busiest day of the year, with air traffic controllers expecting to handle over 8,800 flights. It is predicted that around 770,000 flights will cross UK airspace through the summer, which is 40,000 more than last year and a record high. 

South East England: Flightpaths and stacks (oval shapes) holding aircraft waiting to land

South East England: Flightpaths and stacks (oval shapes) holding aircraft waiting to land


These figures should make everyone question whether the UK's National Air Traffic Control Service (NATS) is reaching its limit. Will we only discover the limit when aircraft crash?

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.
— Jamie Hutchison, NATS Director

The government has now launched a discussion to shape the UK's aviation industry for the next 30 years and is asking the public to submit ideas on a range of subjects.

From February to May this year, the Department for Transport held a consultation on reforming airspace. The responses are currently being examined and a report will be published in the autumn.

Air Traffic Controllers at work

Air Traffic Controllers at work


Today's consultation paper, "Beyond the horizon - the future of UK aviation: a call to evidence on a new aviation strategy" wants to cover everything from aviation's impact on the environment to the future of drone technology and baggage handling.

Comments are invited on six themes:

Customer service. 

Safety and security. 

Global connectivity. 

Competitive markets. 

Supporting growth while tackling environmental impacts. 

Innovation, technology and skills. 

The closing date is 13th October 2017 (11.45pm).

The increase in air traffic is not just at Heathrow. Today also marks the start of a £1bn investment programme to double the size of Manchester Airport's Terminal 2.

The BBC reports that the number of planes taking off and landing at Stansted has gone up every month for almost four years; Cardiff Airport has seen an almost 11% rise in traffic; Luton is recording growth of 7% this year.

To enable NATS to handle the increasing aircraft numbers, it has a new £600m iTec computer system.