UK air traffic growth makes 2019 busiest year ever

British Airways Airplane

2019 was another record year for air traffic in the UK airspace, with 2,580,214 flights managed by NATS, an increase of 0.9% from 2018. The last decade also proved to be record breaking, with air traffic increasing by 13.3% between 2009 and 2019.

Another record surpassed during 2019, was the busiest day on record, with 8,863 flights on 5 July 2019, beating the previous record set in May 2018. Notably, the two millionth flight of the year occurred on 25 September, three days earlier than ever before. A decade ago, this milestone wasn’t reached until October and even November, showing the growth that has happened in the industry since then.   Despite increasing flight numbers, NATS delay figures have continued to improve with an average per flight delay of just 8.4 seconds in 2019, compared with 12.5 seconds the previous year.

As air traffic has grown, so too have environmental concerns and the past decade has seen NATS achieve significant CO2 savings as a result of changes to airspace infrastructure as well as the introduction of advanced air traffic controller tools. In 2018/2019 alone, NATS enabled a reduction of 113,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions from airspace operations and saved airline customers £18.4 million in fuel costs. Airspace modernisation over the next ten years will build on this further, allowing for up to 20% CO2 savings through improvements to continuous climb and descent profiles and ending stacking as we know it today. Flights will fly quieter, quicker and cleaner routes.

While air travel has grown year on year over the past decade, January conversely saw NATS controllers handle 177,246 flights, a 2.3% decrease when compared to January 2019.This follows a slight decline in October and November last year, partially due to the collapse of airlines such as WOW and Primera and holiday company Thomas Cook, as well as the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max and shifting holiday preferences.  And quite possible there is a Coronavirus impact to the January traffic levels.

Juliet Kennedy, NATS Operations Director, said: “Despite the past few months decline, air traffic overall is increasing and by 2030, our latest forecasts predict that there will be 3.2m flights in UK skies every year; we have exciting plans in place to modernise airspace and upgrade our technology so that we can mange these increasing numbers sustainably. Environmental concerns are front and centre for the industry and while the British public do not want to be penalised for flying, they do expect us to act. Airspace modernisation will help us to deliver the environmental benefits that passengers want.”