Skies over UK fall silent as air traffic falls by almost 90% compared with last year

Video issued by National Air Traffic Services showing comparison air traffic over Europe one year apart Credit: NATS/PA

Air traffic in the UK is down by almost 90% compared with this time last year, as air travel continues to fall globally amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Only 832 flights were handled in UK airspace on Thursday 2 April, compared to 7,240 on the equivalent flying day in 2019 – a decrease of 89%, the National Air Traffic Service (Nats) has revealed.

Military flights, air ambulance, police and goods delivered via air freight are still operational, but commercial air travel has been vastly reduced worldwide.

At the end of March, air traffic volumes in Germany were also down by 80%, as well as 82% in France, 85% in Spain, and 88% in Italy.

Nats said it would upload weekly data visualisations to Twitter to show the continuing impact of coronavirus on UK air traffic.

UK airports have responded to the collapse in flight numbers by significantly scaling down their operations.

Heathrow is set to close one of its runways next week. London Gatwick has already closed one of its two terminals and introduced limited runway hours for scheduled flights on Wednesday, while London City Airport is expected to be closed to commercial and private flights until the end of April.

Southend Airport is only open three days per week.

Multiple airlines have been hit financially by the crisis including British Airways, which has been forced to make cuts affecting up to 28,000 workers.

A Ryanair and esayJet aircraft parked at Southend airport after airlines reduced flights amid travel restrictions and a huge drop in demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, easyJet announced it has grounded its entire fleet of 344 aircraft, saying the move “removes significant cost”.

Irish airline Ryanair said it expects to carry “minimal if any” traffic this April and May, that the number of passengers it carried in March was 48% lower than the same month last year.

It is currently flying less than 20 daily flights, compared to its usual 2,500.

The International Air Transport Association has estimated that the UK could see 113.5 million fewer passengers travelling through its airports in 2020, a drop of more than a third compared with 2019.