Towards the end of 2017 we began gradually introducing a new electronic flight strip system called EXCDS in to our London Terminal Control Centre, which manages the airspace over London and the South East. This system is now fully operational and helping us to safely manage the growing volume of air traffic in what is some of the busiest and most complex airspace in the world.

With demand for our airspace growing, it is essential that we modernise the tools and technologies we use to manage airspace in order to increase capacity and ensure safety as traffic increases.

Further information about EXCDS can be found below.

What is EXCDS?

Blogs about EXCDS

Find out more about our transition to EXCDS in these posts published on our Corporate Blog.


What is EXCDS?

EXCDS is a new electronic flight strip system that we are currently introducing in to our London Terminal Control Centre, which manages flights entering and departing London and the South-East, some of the busiest and most complex airspace in the world. It will replace the existing paper strips system, which has served us well but will not cope with the demand that is forecast for the future. A flight strip is one of the core elements of an air traffic control system, providing an air traffic controller with all the relevant information about each individual aircraft, including its speed, altitude and destination.

Why are you introducing this new tool?

Our controllers currently use paper strips to manage air traffic within London Terminal Control. Whilst this has served us well, we need to move to an electronic system in order to meet future growth. EXCDS is part of a broader ten-year £1bn technology transformation programme at NATS, which will update many of the core systems used to manage air traffic in order to meet forecast growth, improve efficiency and  reduce our impact on the environment, whilst also maintaining and improving our already high safety levels.

What benefits will EXCDS deliver?

EXCDS offers two main benefits compared to paper strips. Firstly, it simplifies coordination between air traffic controllers, thereby reducing controller workload. Currently, Air Traffic Controllers have to call each other to pass aircraft between sectors. This is time consuming and adds to controller workload in what is already a complex operation. Introducing electronic coordination reduces the time spent on the phone, freeing up Controllers to manage the growing volumes of traffic being seen and laying the foundations for future growth.

Secondly, EXCDS introduces a conformance monitoring tool in to the London Terminal Control operation for the first time. This will automatically alert Controllers if an aircraft takes actions different to those instructed. This will enable the Controller to take remedial action swiftly and is expected to help reduce level-busts, whereby pilots mistakenly enter a different flight level to that which has been instructed.

What benefits will these changes bring?

The tools and technologies we use to manage air traffic have a direct impact on the volume of traffic we can safely manage. While the tools and technologies in place today have served us well, we need new tools and technologies like EXCDS to help us manage future traffic growth.

We need to modernise our airspace and the tools and technologies we use to manage it in order to deliver the capacity required for the future and to maintain safety as traffic rises, while also reducing our impact on the environment.

Designed in the 1950s and 60s for aircraft that have long since retired, UK airspace handles traffic levels that have increased more than one hundred fold with traffic levels expected to increase by a further 40% by 2030. Imagine trying to put today’s road traffic through the road network of the 1960s. It would simply not work.

Neither is our airspace optimised either for communities close to airports or the global environment. We need to modernise our airspace to improve safety and deliver capacity, while reducing our impact on the environment.

The changes we are introducing as part of our wider technology transformation programme, combined with airspace modernisation, will deliver many of the benefits airlines and local communities want to see, including increased capacity and efficiency and alternative ways of managing noise.

Are these the only changes you’re making to ‘modernise’ the skies?

EXCDS is part of a wider £1bn technology transformation programme which will provide us with the tools and technologies required to meet growing demand for air travel, to ensure safety as traffic grows and to help reduce the environmental impact of the industry.

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