Airspace efficiency

Measuring environmental performance


Our pioneering metric

We have developed a pioneering metric, known as 3Di, to measure the environmental efficiency of UK airspace. The 3Di metric provides a score which helps us monitor the efficiency of UK airspace by comparing the actual flight path of an aircraft to the ‘preferred profile’ (or the most efficient possible flight path).

Every year, every commercial flight in UK airspace is given a 3Di score. At the end of each year, these scores are combined to give an annual score which can be compared to targets set by the Civil Aviation Authority, our regulator, in consultation with our customers.

How is the score calculated?

The 3Di score runs on a scale from 0 inefficiency to 100+ inefficiency and calculated based on both horizontal and vertical efficiency.

The horizontal efficiency compares the actual radar ground track against the most direct track possible over ground, essentially calculating the additional miles flown.

The vertical efficiency measures the amount of level flight that occurs below the airlines’ preferred cruising level; the more time spent at a lower cruising altitude, the more penalising for a flight’s 3Di score.

An example 3Di scale

How can NATS influence the 3Di score?

The biggest improvements to our 3Di score can be delivered by changes to the design and operation of airspace, and by improving access to shared airspace. But the way our air traffic controllers direct aircraft day-to-day also has an impact. Some of the ways our controllers can positively impact 3Di include: 

  • More continuous climb and descent operations
  • More direct routes across UK airspace  
  • Reduced airborne holding time at destination airports  
  • Working with neighbouring air traffic control providers and military airspace users to deliver more direct routes
  • Achieving or exceeding the customers preferred cruise level 

The challenge for our controllers is being able to direct air traffic in a way which has a positive impact on 3Di and simultaneously dealing with a high volume of flights in our network, limited runway capacity which leads to aircraft holding, and occasionally bad weather.

We also recognise that the 3Di score is also influenced by variables and factors outside of our control, including the actions of our airline customers, airports, neighbouring air traffic organisations, the military and other airspace users.

As an indicator of the UK’s overall airspace efficiency the score is not a pure reflection of NATS efficiency. But, the 3Di measure ensures that we not only focus on what we control, but how we can improve the resilience of our operations to influences such as the weather and to work collaboratively across the industry to deliver efficiency gains.

We are making our 3Di metric available to all

Reducing the aviation industry’s carbon footprint is one of the biggest challenges we face. Following the publication of the European Destination 2050 Roadmap, which sets to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the aviation sector by 2050, NATS is making available free-of-charge the formula of its industry-leading environmental performance metric to the wider industry to deliver efficiency gains.

If you are interested in having a conversation about 3Di, we would really like to hear from you. Simply complete our get in touch form and one of the team will be in contact.

Our controllers strive to positively impact the 3Di score

3Di Performance

The monthly 3Di scores for April, May and June 2023 were 27.52, 28.86 and 29.37 respectively.

The higher score in May was driven by an increase in traffic across the network, an increase in airborne holding and a higher proportion of Easterly runway operations, which tend to be more inefficient than Westerly operations.

Our 2023 YTD 3Di score is 27.82 to the end of June, 0.23 points above the regulatory target of 27.59 due at the end of the calendar year.

We have a rolling capital investment programme which seeks to deliver reduced fuel burn and emissions from airline customers through airspace redesign and technology implementation. We supplement this by engaging our controllers and investigating opportunities for tactical improvement to flight profiles.


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