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BBT March/April 2019 cover
March/April 2019

UK needs urgent airspace modernisation - NATS

UK flight delays are set to rise sharply over the next decade unless its airspace is modernised, leading industry figures have said.

Research by the National Air Traffic Control Service (NATS) showed that delays are set to rise from around 90,000 minutes a year today to 4 million by 2030 unless the UK’s “ageing network of airspace structures and flight paths is redesigned to make use of modern aircraft technology”.

The call for modernisation comes from Sky’s the Limit campaign group – a coalition of NATS, Airport Operators Association and trade body Airlines UK.

The group wants government and politicians to support the changes, described as urgent and necessary.

“Much of the UK’s controlled airspace – the invisible motorways in the sky where commercial aircraft fly – was designed in the 1960 and 1970s for a different era of aircraft and when traffic was less than half of what it is today,” Sky’s the Limit said in a statement. “Redrawing flight paths and moving away from traditional ground-based beacons to modern satellite navigation will increase capacity in the air, while reducing the number of people who experience aircraft noise and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.”

The plans were also backed by Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger: “On-time performance is vitally important for Virgin Atlantic and our customers. Our investment in the very latest generation aircraft will allow us to fly ever more efficiently so that we can keep our fares low and minimise our environmental impact.

“But we need modern airspace infrastructure to maximise the benefits of these highly efficient aircraft. We’re calling on the government to recognise the overwhelming positive case for change in terms of the wider economic value and the benefits for noise and emissions,” said Kreeger.

The group also wants the government to commit to delivering a long-term noise and airspace policy that enables airspace modernisation and to assign it under the remit of the National Infrastructure Commission in order to “detach it from the short term political cycle”.

NATS chief executive officer Martin Rolfe said: “We welcome the government’s decision to agree the location of a new runway in the south east of England, but airspace is the invisible part of our transport infrastructure and this is a nationwide issue that needs to be addressed. Imagine the road network of the 1960s trying to cope with today’s road traffic levels.”

“The amount of delays that motorists would experience would be totally unsustainable. Modernising how our skies are structured is vital, but we are already behind schedule and it is critical that the industry and government now work together to deliver change.”

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