Air traffic figures for 2022 show the UK aviation industry is steadily recovering from the pandemic, even though pre-covid flight numbers are not yet being reached.
In 2022, NATS managed 2,136,904 flights in UK airspace, 83% of 2019 figures. The busiest day was in the summer, 8 July 2022 with 7,506 flights, compared to the record-breaking 8,863 in July 2019. The busiest month for the year was also July 2022, with 219,825 flights handled by controllers at NATS’ Swanwick Centre, Hampshire and Prestwick Centre, Ayrshire.
The two millionth flight of the year is always an important milestone, and in 2022 this occurred on 6 December. In previous years, this has been reached as early as September when NATS was managing almost 2.6 million flights a year.
NATS handled 24% of European traffic in 2022 with the proportion of European delay attributed to NATS (NERL) just 3.1%.
Despite air traffic figures falling short of pre-pandemic records, 2022 showed a marked increase on the previous two years when numbers were significantly reduced and just over one million flights were handled in UK airspace. The main challenge of the year was volatility; air traffic often presented in places and times that were unexpected, compounded by various external factors.
Juliet Kennedy, Operations Director, NATS, said, “Planning and preparation in support of our customers – airlines and airports – is always our focus, but took on even more importance last year, which proved to be more challenging than most. As well as the usual issues, such as weather, we were also dealing with industrial action in vital supporting sectors, the possible re-introduction of travel restrictions, for those travelling into the UK from China for example, and the closure of Ukraine airspace.
“We maintained our operational capability throughout the pandemic and planned for 90% of usual traffic numbers in 2022 to ensure we did not constrain the aviation industry’s recovery. It was a very volatile year, but it was a great relief to welcome the return of busy airspace and people travelling overseas again.
“We will continue to work closely with our industry partners in the UK and across Europe as we move into 2023 and make every effort to continue to get passengers where they want to be, safely and efficiently.”