Advancing aviation, keeping the skies safe
We are the UK's leading provider of air traffic control services. In a typical year pre-Covid, we handle over 2.5 million flights and 250 million passengers travelling over the UK and across the North Atlantic. If you’ve been a passenger on a commercial aircraft flying in UK airspace then it's highly likely that we’ve handled your flight.
Outside of the UK we offer air traffic services to customers including airports, airlines, air traffic service providers and governments. We currently provide these across parts of Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Download an overview presentation about NATS from our Media Centre to find out more.
We exist to make the skies an even safer and more efficient environment for aviation.
With this in mind, two things drive everything we do. The first is safety, a duty of care for the skies. It's what we've always done and what we'll always do. The second is a constant striving for improvement to ensure aviation best meets the needs of a changing world.
At NATS our purpose is core to our being, and we define it as; Advancing aviation, keeping the skies safe.
We have around 4,500 employees working at NATS dedicated to advancing aviation, keeping the skies safe. That includes 1,700 Air Traffic Controllers, 650 Air Traffic Service Assistants, 1,000 engineers, and 1,000 other specialists.
We value diversity and strive to create a positive and friendly working environment where everybody is encouraged to make the most of their potential.
You can find out more about working at NATS in our Careers section.
In the UK, we provide air traffic services at 15 airports and manage all UK upper airspace from our two air traffic control centres located at Swanwick in Hampshire and Prestwick in Ayrshire.
UK airports we provide ATC services include:
- Belfast City
- Belfast International
- London City (via our Digital Tower)
- St Athan
In addition to Operational locations we have around a thousand industry specialists based at our offices in Whiteley, Hampshire and in offices in central London. Outside of the UK have small offices in the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions to support our growing international business.
Everything we do at NATS is underpinned by our values. They form the basis of our culture, our actions and how we embody our purpose.
All airspace around the world is divided into Flight Information Regions (FIRs). Each FIR is managed by a controlling authority that ensures air traffic services are provided to the aircraft flying within it. The CAA is the controlling authority for the UK and NATS provides air traffic services for them.
UK Airspace is divided into three FIRs; London, Scottish and Shanwick Oceanic. The London FIR covers England and Wales. The Scottish FIR covers Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Shanwick Oceanic FIR covers a region of airspace totalling 700,000 square miles over the North East Atlantic.
We manage all upper airspace within these FIRs and pre-covid a typical day would see around 7,000 aircraft flying in UK skies. These include leisure, commercial, cargo and military aircraft. Find out more in our Airspace section.
In 2020 we celebrated 100 years of Air Traffic Control (ATC). Growing from humble beginnings using lamps for signals to a globally connected digital network, ATC has revolutionised the aviation industry.
ATC for commercial flights started in 1920 in the UK. Croydon Airport was first used as London’s air terminal, but all the controller could do was give the pilot a red or green light for take-off and acknowledge position reports sent by radio. After the war, ATC became the responsibility of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and the network of air routes we use today began to develop in the 1950s.
Our forerunner, National Air Traffic Control Services (NATCS), was established in December 1962. It covered civil ATC but liaised with the MoD (RAF) in areas where military traffic needed to cross civilian routes. When the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was established in April 1972, NATCS became part of it and shortened its name to NATS.
In 1992 it was recognised that as a service provider NATS should be operated at a distance from its regulator, the CAA. With that in mind, NATS was re-organised into a Companies Act company in April 1996 and became a wholly owned subsidiary of the CAA.
A Public-Private Partnership for NATS was proposed in June 1998, and enshrined in the Transport Act 2000. The Government chose the Airline Group (AG) as the preferred partner in March 2001 and the transaction was completed in July 2001 with the sale of 46% to the AG and the devise of 5% to staff. Since this time, and weathering the impacts of 9-11, Volcanic Ash and Covid-19, the Company has continued to perform well both financially and operationally with a world leading safety record.
You can find out more about the history of ATC on our ATC 100 pages that celebrated 100 years of Air Traffic Control in 2020.
A public private partnership
NATS is a public private partnership between the Airline Group, which holds 42%, NATS staff who hold 5%, UK airport operator LHR Airports Limited with 4%, and the Government which holds 49% (the golden share).
The Airline Group comprises: