Irish body takes control of Northern Ireland airspace

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A section of Northern Ireland airspace will be the responsibility of the Republic’s air traffic control for the first time as part of a trial aimed at improving the service.

For nine months, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) will operate north of the border, governing what is known as a Functional Airspace Block (FAB) which recognises the flow of air traffic rather than national borders.

Until September this year, the UK authority NATS will relinquish control as part of the Single European Sky Initiative being promoted by the EU.

Alastair Muir, NATS operations director Prestwick, said: “The trial involves a portion of one sector of airspace where ATC (air traffic control) services will be delegated until September, so it is only a small proportion of northern Ireland’s airspace.

“We expect no difference in the level of service, this is about gaining insight into possible future efficiencies in the system which will help reduce costs for customers. The point of the trial is to gather data, so we are just at the start of the process. The trial has the support of both the UK and Irish regulatory authorities.”

The UK’s Aviation Minister, Robert Goodwill, said: “The cooperation and innovation shown in this trial puts UK and Ireland at the cutting edge of air traffic control. It cements our efforts to deliver the safest, most efficient and cost-effective way of managing our skies. The launch of the trial is a credit to the shared commitment of all those involved.”

Under the new system, increased air traffic can be handled without increased costs being incurred by air traffic management and airlines.

It will also improve overall efficiency according to the Republic’s transport minister, Leo Varadkar.

Welcoming the initiative – which will be followed by two further phases when the current trial ends – Mr Varadkar said it was “good news for airlines and their passengers” and “should further improve efficiencies, and make our airspace ever safer”.