Summer is always the busiest time for air traffic control, particularly at an airport like Southampton which has seen encouraging signs of growth and caters to a large number of holiday makers as well as business travellers.

This summer, Southampton Airport has experienced its busiest July in seven years. Nearly 200,000 passengers travelled through the airport in July 2014 – a 1.9% increase on July last year and the largest number since 2007.   This represents a 50% increase in aircraft movements from the winter months.

families on beech

From Southampton tower, NATS also provides radar services to other users of the Solent Control Area including traffic to and from Bournemouth airport and general aviation flights looking to transit the area.  Summer is the most active time for these flights as well; July 2014 saw an additional 1,210 flight operate from Bournemouth and another 1,100 general aviation aircraft provided with transit clearances across “our” airspace.

So how does the tower cope with traffic peaks when it seems like half of the UK wants to fly on the same weekend?

As ever, safety is our first priority.  With the surge in holiday flights, our controllers, engineers and operational support teams work hard to ensure that our procedures and equipment can accommodate the extra traffic.

The increase in traffic obviously increases controllers’ workloads.  All of our operational staff are trained to handle peak traffic but it is our watch managers’ jobs to ensure that controllers are adequately rested and rotated to ensure everyone is working at their optimum capability when they are plugged in.

We also work closely with the airport, which gives us critical insight about anything occurring in the terminals that could impact our operation.  During busy summer months every stand (or gate) is in high demand so if one aircraft can’t push back on time, it may leave an arriving flight waiting on the tarmac for that stand.  In a system as intricate as an airport, the knock-on effects of one delay can often ripple on long after that particular flight’s departure.

By working closely with the airport, we’re better able to identify these problems and quickly rectify them.

Despite the summer traffic, NATS was still able to deliver 99.6% of all flights with no ATC-attributable delay in July.  We know it’s important to get you off on your holidays on time, and home without delay!


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