London airports to face delays and disruptions during air-traffic control changes

NATS has warned travellers to anticipate an average delay of 20 minutes

London’s airports are about to undergo a major technical update that will cause delays and disruptions to travellers flying in and out of the city.

The air-traffic control provider, NATS, is updating its air control method from one designed in 20th century to one that uses computers. While the new system, known as EXCDS, is being implemented they are warning that passengers should anticipate delays of 20 minutes on average.

Major update of air traffic control will cause delays and disruptions at London airports — Stoyan Yotov / Shutterstock
Major update of air traffic control will cause delays and disruptions at London airports — Stoyan Yotov / Shutterstock

While the change has already been implemented in two areas, the stage that takes effect on Wednesday morning affects the London Terminal Control Centre. This area also covers south-east England stretching from south of Birmingham to the French coast.

The main difference between the technologies lies in the replacement of paper strips with up to date electronic devices.

To allow controllers to adjust to the new system, the amount of air traffic will be reduced for the first 10 days of its operation. After the initial period, 10 further days of reduced traffic are expected, with full capacity restored “within a few weeks”.

General manager of London Terminal Control, Pete Dawson, said: “We will be reducing the amount of air traffic in the transitioning sectors to give controllers more space to build up their confidence using the new tool in the live environment.

“We apologise in advance to any passengers who are affected.

He called the move “a crucial step in preparing ourselves for future traffic levels”.

According to NATS, passengers at Heathrow should anticipate an average delay of 20 minutes going into Heathrow. The replacement will also affect journeys to Gatwick that will be extended by 10 minutes. The agency also adds that inbound delays are likely to cause delays on outbound flights as well.

A spokesperson for British Airways, the biggest airline operating at Heathrow, said: “We are expecting to run a full schedule.”