Watch the World's Busiest Airport System in Action
More than 736,000 planes traversed UK airspace between the months of June and August this summer, according to NATS, which manages air traffic control for the United Kingdom. In 2018, the London metropolitan airport system handled 5,683 more flights than 2017's previous record, marking the region's sixth year of consecutive growth.
Alongside the data, NATS released a mesmerizing video depicting 24 hours of aircraft movements above London to illustrate how busy the airspace has become.
“It has been an incredibly busy summer and our teams have done a fantastic job safely managing what have been unprecedented levels of air traffic,” NATS operation director Juliet Kennedy told The Telegraph. “It’s been particularly pleasing to have done so without seeing the severity of capacity issues that have existed elsewhere in Europe.”
London is the world's busiest city airport system with six commercial airports within its metropolitan area: Heathrow (LHR), Gatwick (LGW), Stansted (STN), Luton (LTN), City (LCY) and Southend (SEN). Heathrow and Gatwick obviously are the best known of the six, respectively processing 78 million and 43 million passengers in 2017. NATS stated that London handled a quarter of all of Europe's air traffic this summer, which encompasses departing and arriving UK flights as well as aircraft simply passing through UK airspace en route to and from North America.
However, Ryanair and other budget carriers have significantly increased the number of routes that operate out of Stansted and Luton, greatly contributing to the congestion in the airspace and pushing London's skies to capacity. Luton and Stansted alone have increased air traffic by 30% during the last four years.
Delays will become increasingly common for UK travelers unless the British government significantly upgrades London's aviation infrastructure. As far back as 2016, NATS predicted that delays at London airports could rise from 90,000 cumulative minutes a year to four million cumulative delayed minutes by 2030.
Earlier this September, Ryanair accused NATS of "clear discrimination" against the Stansted-based carrier, alleging preferential treatment for flights departing out of Heathrow and Gatwick. However, NATS disagreed, stating that “Ryanair performance this summer cannot be blamed on UK air traffic control.