Air traffic controllers warn ‘we’re running out of space in the sky to fit planes’

Controllers will guide 8,800 planes above the UK on Friday, more than any other day in history.

It is predicted to be the busiest day ever in Britain’s skies with a record number of planes flying over and air traffic controllers are warning of an increasing lack of space.

But the system for shepherding aircraft was built over fifty years ago and controllers say it needs urgently updating.

‘Motorways in the sky’

“Think of motorways in the sky,” says Anne-Marie Black, National Air Traffic Control Service (Nats) spokesperson. “When the UK airspace design was built back in the 1960s, we could never have predicted we would be handling 2.5 million flights a year.

“Technology is now so advanced that planes could fly on exact routes, this would enable us to fit more planes in the sky. But airspace design needs to catch up.”

What an air traffic controller sees from a digital remote control room. (Nats)

The Government is currently in talks on how to revamp UK aviation for the next 30 years. But flights can’t be grounded so, Black says, the changes will need to be made incrementally and could take a very long time.

‘8,000 cancellations by 2030’

“This year we are forecast to have seven seconds of delays per flight,” says Black.

“But if the design isn’t updated, by 2030 it would be 30-40 minutes per flight and up to 8,000 cancellations per year.”

She adds: “We simply couldn’t handle the number of aircraft in the sky.”

Why Britain’s skies are so congessted

One cause of congested skies is British holidaymakers all heading in a similar direction. Summer travels used to be more spread out, but now there are a number of spots in the east that tourists want to avoid.

“People have stopped going to places like Tunisia and Egypt, and are all headed to places like Spain, Portugal and Italy,” says Black.

The control room for London City Airport. (Nats)

London is also a special case when it comes to crowding in the skies. “We’re unique in the southeast with five major airports within a 25-mile radius. That means all crisscrossing flight paths in condensed airspace.”

Although the public often imagine air traffic controllers to be strung out and overwhelmed, says Black, they are chosen for their ability to remain calm under pressure and visualise in 3D.

“We have the best air traffic controllers in the world,” says Black.

I News

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