This summer has been a busy one for NATS and in fact all ANSPs throughout Europe, with records being broken throughout the continent as more and more people have taken to the skies than ever before. While scheduled air traffic is on the rise, the use of private jets is too, and this weekend is always one of the busiest of the year for this specialist sector as the summer holidays come to a close.
Business aviation (as it is called) might make up a small percentage of total UK air traffic movements but can cause a disproportionately large impact to our air traffic management (ATM) network. That is because flight plans can be filed at the last minute, which makes it difficult to plan for, and it tends to be highly focused around dates and destinations – for example, at the start and end of the February half-term, from UK airfields to Alpine ski destinations; during the May bank holidays flights to southern France for events such as the Monaco Grand Prix and Cannes Film Festival; and now, when it is the end of the summer school holidays.
The business aviation sector is comprised of an eclectic mix of operators, from the large, more recognisable, companies such as NetJets and Gama Aviation, who offer large fleets for charter flights and provide managed services (i.e. looking after the owner’s aircraft and providing them with flight and cabin crew on-demand) down to single aircraft charters. Aircraft can widely vary, from the typical ‘Biz Jets’ such as Learjet or Gulfstream, to small turboprops such as Beech or Piper, and up to large jets such as 737s or 747s, depending on the type of operation.
There are also a number of Fixed Based Operators (FBOs), such as Signature or Harrods, who provide a range of ground services for business aviation flights from small, specialised terminal buildings at some of the major airports, such as Stansted, Luton and London City. Engaging with the FBOs allows us to tap into a far broader set of smaller operators.
When planning for the summer peak period of travel, we have to look at the demand of private jet users and their UK bases, such as TAG Farnborough Airport and Biggin Hill, and share this information with our Airspace Capacity Management team who can then prepare and plan accordingly. This requires a high level of engagement and two-way dialogue, which is facilitated by annual events, such as the NATS and Business Aviation Forum, as well as seasonal conference calls, which all stakeholders can contribute to and collaborate on. Situational awareness on both sides is vital in order to minimise disruption and delay and this is more important than ever as the sector continues to grow.
Since the introduction of the annual Business Aviation Forum, we’ve progressed from having to cope with many unknowns around ‘Biz Jet’ demand peaks to being in constant dialogue with the sector about what’s coming and how we, as an industry, can manage it, which is in everyone’s interests. The more we understand about how the sector operates and the requirements of the customers, the better we can work with the operators to ensure that we provide the best possible service – the safest, the most efficient and environmentally friendly – even during periods of high demand. The same can be said for all areas of our business, whether private or commercial; a collaborative approach, involving the will and resource of all stakeholders across the industry, is the only way to successfully manage increasing air traffic numbers for the benefit of all.