Concerns over airspace mark U.K.’s busiest day ever for flying

Air traffic controllers in Great Britain expected Friday to be the country’s busiest flying day ever.

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It’s a dubious distinction, air traffic controllers say, and one that’s a sign that British airspace may soon be unable to accommodate the thousands of airplanes taking off and landing in the nation each day.

In a post to its website, British air traffic control company NATS wrote that it expected to work 8,800 flights Friday — contributing to a total of 770,000 expected flights this summer.
Both figures would be records, NATS wrote. They lead some in the U.K. flight industry to believe the business is experiencing unsustainable growth if Britain doesn’t change how it manages its airspace.

“In the last few weeks we have already safely managed record-breaking daily traffic levels, but the aging design of UK airspace means we will soon reach the limits of what can be managed without delays rising significantly,” Jamie Hutchison, director of NATS’ Swanwick air traffic control center, said in a statement.

In its post online, NATS cited a U.K. Department for Transport projection that estimated there could be more than 3,000 days’ worth of flight delays by 2030.

Britain is taking some measures to work out those problems, at least on the ground. The country’s busiest airport, Heathrow, plans to build a third runway.

London Stansted — the country’s fourth busiest airport, which has had 45 straight months of growth –last year announced the construction of a new $169 million arrivals building. Manchester Airport in 2015 detailed a ten-year $1.3 billion plan to overhaul its facilities and expand its T2 terminal.

The country’s transport department is seeking public input to develop its new aviation strategy, the BBC reported.

NATS said it hopes part of government policy will be permission to tweak the layout of flight paths.

“The UK’s airspace was designed decades ago and doesn’t allow us to take advantage of the technology on board modern aircraft that would raise capacity, and also reduce emissions and noise for communities on the ground,” Hutchison said.

By Sam Howard