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Speed limits for planes on the cards

The travel industry is traditionally reluctant to discuss the impact of tragic events on business, but forward bookings are believed to be running at around 20 percent below expected levels.

The travel industry is traditionally reluctant to discuss the impact of tragic events on business, but forward bookings are believed to be running at around 20 percent below expected levels.

Published Jul 7, 2015

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London - Your flight takes off on time and is even on course to land early thanks to a helpful tail wind.

Then when you are almost within sight of your home airport, the pilot informs you that congestion means your plane is being kept in a “holding pattern” until a slot can be found for it to land.

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But the frustrating experience of endlessly circling over the countryside could become a thing of the past after British air traffic controllers developed a new system of aircraft speed limits.

Martin Rolfe, the head of the UK’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS), told an aviation conference: “We aim to end holding. Passengers can expect to arrive on time as a matter of course.”

The new system works by introducing a “variable speed limit of the skies” similar to the technology used on highways to slow down road traffic flows and avoid gridlock.

In future, if there is a risk of a jam, UK air traffic controllers will alert aircraft up to 350 miles away and tell them to reduce their speed so they arrive to land at a precise time. NATS is working with air traffic controllers in Ireland, France and Holland to control the arrival of planes, and will soon introduce Scandinavian controllers to the system as well. They hope to extend the 350-mile range to 550 miles and then to 1 000 miles.

The result should be that flights will arrive more reliably without delays, fly at a higher altitude, waste less fuel and make less noise over homes, meaning an end to holding, or “stacking” as it is also known. Mr Rolfe told the RunwaysUK aviation conference in London: “Airlines can expect reduced fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

“Getting rid of the holds means we’ll be able to depart modern, efficient, capable aircraft into more efficient higher airspace more quickly – which in turn will help reduce the noise footprint on the ground and the wider environmental impact.”

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