As the 68th Cannes Film Festival got under way last week, huge numbers of people took to the skies to ensure they were able to travel there in style.

Cannes is just one of the major events for which NATS prepares all year round. And for the next few weeks it’s going to be busy, with the film festival, the Monaco Grand Prix, the Bank Holiday weekend and the England and Wales school half term holiday all coinciding.

Over the course of the Cannes Film Festival each year, NATS sees a steady increase in business jet demand at a number of UK airports, including Farnborough, London City and Luton. This inevitably coincides with the Monaco Grand Prix, with many additional flights operating to and from Nice and Cannes for the two events.

This year the first day of the film festival saw 427 business jet flights, up from 419 last year and 405 in 2013. These spikes compare to an average of around 353 business jet flights on a normal day.

In previous years, during the last two weeks in May the overall average daily traffic has increased 2% year on year. The prediction for 2015 is no different, as we’re anticipating an increase in traffic in UK airspace of approximately 2.2% over the next two weeks compared to the same period last year.

On Friday 23 May 2014 approximately 6,300 commercial flights arrived or departed UK airports – an increase of around 400 flights (5%) compared to the previous week. This was the busiest day of the Bank Holiday weekend.

Following the trend, we expect today to be the busiest day of this year so far in terms of total number of flights handled in the UK.

So how do we prepare for these peaks in demand?

As part of the planning team within our Airspace Capacity Management department which has the challenge of anticipating how all kinds of events – from film festivals and sporting events to predicting weather problems – may change the traffic demand pattern. The planning team prepare the ATC operation with as much information as possible so they can anticipate and predicted increase in demand.

Business Jet photo - Dirk-Kan Kraan

This time of year is particularly busy time for Business Jets. Image via Flickr by Dirk–Jan Kraan

We look as far into the future as possible to determine ATC capacity and the predicted picture of demand. This helps the Operational Supervisory teams to match up staffing levels with the anticipated air traffic demand. We also work closely with airports to ensure we build their requirements into the overall planning process.

The inevitable increase in business jet flights to big events can cause an increase in workload for ATC, integrating them into the already busy traffic flows in and out of the UK.

Part of the preparation during the planning phase also includes an assessment of upcoming weather conditions. We don’t tend to look further than five days ahead as the weather can be fickle and are too changeable, however we monitor the weather conditions closely on a daily basis and adjust our plans accordingly.

Part of the ATC effort is to divide sectors of airspace when they are expected to get busy – reducing the pressure on staff, whilst ensuring safety is prioritised and any disruption or delay is minimised.

As always, we will continue to prepare for and manage a busy summer season. It is actually good to see that air traffic is at last on a positive upward trend.


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