Last year was the busiest on record for air traffic across the UK, according to UK air navigation services provider NATS, with higher levels of traffic than 2007, the previous peak year prior to the economic downturn.
NATS said the UK broke its annual air traffic record by 0.3%, with 2,557,780 flights in 2018 compared with 2,550,102 flights in 2007, marking six consecutive years of growth since traffic started to increase again after the global financial crisis.
The summer months in particular saw many previous flight records broken as travel in May, June and July exceeded previous peaks. A high of 8,854 flights handled by NATS controllers on a single day in the UK was recorded on 25 May 2018.
Despite increased traffic levels, NATS delay figures have improved with an average per flight delay of 12.5 seconds in 2018, compared with 26.8 seconds in 2007. This represents a 60% reduction in delay, attributable in part to the introduction of new technology.
Juliet Kennedy, NATS operations director, said: “It’s exciting to see traffic levels exceeding the 2007 peak. Our controllers do an extraordinary job under great pressure, especially at peak holiday periods.
“Air travel has never been more popular. This increased demand on our airspace does put it under pressure though, with areas over the South East already experiencing a capacity crunch at peak times during the day. The next few years are critical if we are to futureproof our skies, so we are working with our industry partners now to plan, update and modernise airspace.”
Air traffic in 2019 is forecast to increase by 1% in the UK Flight Information Region (FIR), with a 2% increase expected in 2020.