Heathrow and Gatwick passengers face delays up to three weeks as ATC goes paper-free

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Passengers flying into Heathrow and Gatwick airports may face delays by up to three weeks, it has emerged, after air traffic control systems recently went paper-free.

The national air traffic control service – NATS – is due to change its current system, which uses paper, to an electronic operation by tomorrow.

Flights due to land at Heathrow will be delayed up to twenty minutes and Gatwick could see delays of ten minutes.

The airports have noted that most delays will take place during the arrival of aircraft, yet some delays could be seen in departures.

NATS stated in a blog post: “Moving to a digital tool within London Terminal Control is a crucial step in preparing ourselves for future traffic levels and, alongside much-needed modernisation of our airspace, will give the UK the airspace infrastructure it needs for the 21st century.

We’ve successfully completed two out of 5 transitions on to EXCDS and are now about to start the third, which will undoubtedly be the most challenging in terms of the possible impact on passengers and the flying public.

Starting tomorrow, the sectors that control Heathrow, Gatwick and the airspace to the South and South-East of these airports will switch over to EXCDS. This is obviously a particularly busy area of airspace, covering the approach function for the UK’s two busiest airports.

Just like the previous transitions, months of planning have gone into making this whole process safe and predictable and we are again working very closely with our airport and airline customers to put in place measures to minimise any disruption to passengers.

However, we do expect some flights to experience delays. This is because 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.

We also know there will be some impact on the communities around Heathrow and Gatwick who may hear flights earlier in the morning or later at night during the first ten days of the transition. We’ve asked the Government for some flexibility on the usual limits so that we can land a small number of flights slightly earlier and slightly later than usual.

We will do all we can to avoid this but we thank residents close to these airports for their understanding while we make this important change.