Skies over UK busiest since before the global pandemic
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.
In the year so far, air traffic control services provider, NATS, has safely managed more than 1.8 million 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 July 7, 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.
The upturn comes despite disruptions such as the huge delays caused to network operations by a flight planning sub-system fault on August 28 and disruption to the Europe-wide system as well as in the UK 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%.
NATS’ operations director, Juliet Kennedy, 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.”