As we end week 12 of lockdown in the UK and head into the normal summer holiday season, there is still uncertainty around what a recovery might look like for the aviation industry.
To help answer the many questions about how we can safely and appropriately bring back air travel once we get the go-ahead, NATS is taking part in various discussions with airlines, airports, CAA and Government. One thing is clear, the severe fall in air traffic present a unique opportunity to accelerate aviation decarbonisation.
The UK aviation industry has long been committed to this, not only in our fight against climate change, but also to ensure flying remains something people want to do and contributing to the UK economy.
There seems now to be a theme emerging around the restart of aviation activities among pressure groups, think tanks and politicians: Build back better.
So what does this mean for post COVID-19 aviation and for NATS as an air traffic service provider? What can we learn from the current operation in very low levels of traffic to rebuild in the most fuel and carbon efficient way? How can we work with airlines and airports to reduce local air pollution and manage noise impacts?
Historically low traffic levels offer us a chance to do things that might have been impossible or extremely difficulty under normal circumstances and we’re currently considering a number of short term measures that could improve the environmental efficiency of our operation.
We must also get on with airspace modernisation. The UK’s airspace structure is more than 70 years old and in urgent need of a redesign to make use of new aircraft performance capability and to reduce emissions and noise. This is where NATS can make its biggest contribution to a more sustainable future for flying.
Reshaping the UK’s network of airways and flight paths – allowing for more direct routes, more continuous descents and an end to airborne holding as we know it today – will be a major contribution to reducing CO2. With traffic levels set to remain lower than expected over the next few years, there will never be a better time to make those kinds of complex and fundamental changes.
This animation was made when traffic was still expected to grow, but still explains the principles behind airspace modernisation and why its so important
NATS is a member of Sustainable Aviation, an industry-wide coalition committed to reducing the environmental impact of flying and reaching net-zero emissions over the next 30 years. The coalition published its latest Decarbonisation Road-Map in February, setting out how UK aviation and the government could work together to help cut net carbon emissions to zero. As well as airspace modernisation, this includes action to support and invest in cleaner aircraft and engine technology, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and high-quality carbon offsets and removals.
These actions are all essential to deliver sector decarbonisation but should also be viewed from the perspective of aviation as an engine of economic growth, especially given the need to rebuild our economy in the months and years ahead.
One thing is sure, post COVID-19 the climate crisis will still be here and aviation will remain in the spotlight. We have a great opportunity to ensure that when the traffic returns, it is to a more sustainable future where net zero is closer than we thought possible.
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