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UK-Ireland announce European airspace breakthrough

  • UK-Ireland reach agreement for first functional airspace block in Europe;
  • Trans-Atlantic overflights surging in 2008;
  • Short-haul markets to Eastern Europe showing strong flight gains.

The governments of the UK and Ireland reached (13-Jun-08) an agreement to jointly manage parts of their airspace to minimise air traffic delays and develop more fuel-efficient routes. The breakthrough creation of the first functional airspace block (FAB) in Europe will allow air traffic controllers to manage flights along operational rather than national boundaries.

The FAB management board, chaired by NATS and the Irish Aviation Authority will involve airlines and representatives of both Governments. They will look at airspace design, service provision and safety. The FAB will be regulated by the CAA and the Safety regulation division of the Irish Aviation Authority.

The agreement follows the introduction of EU legislation back in Apr-04 that seeks to minimise air traffic delays through improved cooperation and to promote greater capacity and efficiency across the European air traffic management system.

The UK-Ireland FAB also follows the recent launch by NATS of a fundamental overhaul of the aircraft route map across a large area of southeast England. The region is one of the most complex areas of airspace in the world, with routes in and out of major airports including Heathrow, Stansted, Luton and London City, as well as smaller airports such as Southend and RAF Northolt.

Paul Barron, CEO of NATS, stated, the UK-Ireland FAB is an “innovative and ground breaking approach to establishing and running an effective FAB, in that from Day One both our military and airline customers will be working hand in hand with us and our IAA colleagues on the FAB management board”.

UK Minister for Transport, Rosie Winterton, added, “over 90% of the air traffic on the North Atlantic flies over the UK and Ireland and this joint approach will enable us to enhance the safety and efficiency of the airspace management system to the benefit of the airline industry and passengers”.

Atlantic movements soar

The North Atlantic overflights market has been particularly busy for NATS this year as US carriers ramp up their international services to offset domestic woes. NATS reports trans-Atlantic overflights rose 12.6% year-on-year in May-08 to 18,427, taking the year-to-date total to 80,085, up 10.6%. However, trans-Atlantic flights to/from the UK fell 0.6% in May-08, dragging the year-to-date increase to 0.9%, to 56,611 flights. The closure of Maxjet and Eos and the reduction in service by others may have contributed to the reduction, according to NATS.

NATS monthly traffic growth by market: Jun-07 to May-08

Source: Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation & NATS

Short-haul destinations showing strong growth compared to the same month last year included Poland (+32%), Portugal (+9.1%) and Turkey (+9%).

Overall, NATS handled 221,885 flights in May-08, up 0.7% year-on-year. The air traffic services provider said the number of flights managed by London Area Control increased by 2.1%, while the number of aircraft handled by London Terminal Control decreased by 0.1%.

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