From 1920s to today
Air traffic control for commercial flights in the UK started in 1920. Croydon 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.
NATS and the CAA
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.
Going public – private
The Public-Private Partnership for NATS was proposed in June 1998, and enshrined in the Transport Act 2000. The Government chose the Airline Group 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. Although the Government retained the balance, the company was finally free of Treasury control.
The aviation industry downturn after 11 September 2001 led to a financial restructuring of NATS. This involved £130 million of additional investment (split between Government and LHR Airports Limited) to reduce borrowings. At the same time, LHR Limited took a 4% shareholding, reducing the Airline Group’s holding to 42%. A £600 million bond issue, successfully completed in October 2003, further reduced our debt.
Going from strength to strength
In 2003, NATS launched its ten-year £1 billion investment programme with the announcement of a complete renewal of its radar network. Since then, we have worked with Nav Canada on a new system for Oceanic control; became the first in Europe to establish a working Functional Airspace Block (FAB) with Irish counterparts; and launched a Joint Venture company with the Spanish to develop the next generation of air traffic management systems for Europe.
Visit our timeline which details key events dating back to 1920.
Vision & strategy The market for air traffic management services is changing in response to the long-term growth in aviation.