Airspace

While the last two years have been extremely challenging for aviation, it has also given us an opportunity to find new ways of doing things without the pressure of intense traffic levels.  New technologies are advancing rapidly and the way we travel, receive goods, pilot aircraft, and manage airspace are changing as a result.

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Right now, our big challenge is volatility. We’re currently seeing 80%-90% of pre-pandemic traffic in the UK, but that traffic is both very ‘peaky’ and often presenting in places and at times that were not expected.

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When we were asked by our colleagues at RAF 78 Squadron, based in our Swanwick centre, to support a flypast over London to help mark The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, how could we possibly refuse? So just how do we plan a flypast in some of the UK’s busiest airspace?

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The latest forecasts suggest Europe’s summer traffic levels will be close to 85% of what we saw before the pandemic, with flight numbers even exceeding pre-Covid levels at certain times and in certain places.

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Earlier this month, I was invited to present at the Asia Pacific (APAC) Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation CEO Committee Meeting to talk about our recent deployment of Free Route Airspace and the benefits it could deliver across the region.

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The Covid pandemic had a huge impact on aviation. Almost overnight the volume of traffic in the UK dropped hugely, by up to 90%. But this also provided an unexpected opportunity to see how we could use the UK’s airspace more efficiently.

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From 1 March, anyone flying at Flight Level 330 and below will be able to do so entirely free from of the OTS structure. This change means anyone operating at those levels will have the flexibility to file a random route plan and choose the trajectory that suits them.

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Last week, on 2nd December 2021, NATS implemented the biggest airspace change ever undertaken in the UK and introduced Free Route Airspace for the first time into UK skies. It’s an exciting milestone in a project which has been underway for over five years and will enable huge fuel, flight time and CO2 savings. But what is Free Route Airspace (FRA) and what does it mean for airlines? 

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In this data visualisation, we share an example of a recent infringement at Southampton Airport, to explain how such an incident can have an impact on other airspace activity and users and to help raise awareness in the hope of minimising these occurrences in the coming months.

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By 2030, the aviation industry is targeting an overall reduction of at least 15% in net CO2 emissions relative to 2019, and a 40% net reduction by 2040. Managing our airspace more effectively, and flying more efficiently, will play a crucial role in the future of aviation.

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