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Why new streamlined Heathrow arrivals start in Europe

A new era of sharing information between air navigation service providers on a world view aviation intranet has opened up a world of possibilities for more predictable, fuel-efficient and environmentally sensitive flights. One of the first beneficiaries will be airlines flying into Heathrow.


350 miles from Heathrow, a pilot complies with an instruction from an air traffic controller who is sat in a control centre in Maastricht in the Southern Netherlands. The pilot makes a slight adjustment to the airliner's flight management system to lose a few knots of airspeed. There is nothing unusual in this – except the aircraft's speed is being reduced, not because there is traffic to negotiate in the surrounding airspace, but because by slowing down now this will considerably save time, fuel, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on its approach into London Heathrow.

It is part of a pioneering collaborative air traffic management procedure, called Cross Border Arrivals Management (XMAN), and is part of a broader FABEC and UK-Ireland FAB project aimed at implementing Extended Arrival Management for airports within and close to FABEC airspace. It has been developed by NATS and partnering air navigation service providers (ANSPs) within the Single European Skies ATM Research Programme (SESAR). For years NATS has been researching new ways to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the need to direct aircraft into holding stacks before they can be sequenced to land at Heathrow. With XMAN and other new procedures and technologies under development, the days of holding stacks are well and truly numbered.

After only a few months in service XMAN has demonstrated that by absorbing just one minute during the en-route sector of the flight, called "linear holding", – rather than in an orbital holding stack – aircraft can reduce CO2 emissions by 15,000 tonnes a year. Everyone gains from XMAN. As well as lower costs and a reduced carbon footprint for airlines, XMAN gives airports a greater degree of predictability on when flights will arrive. This means better connections and more time to make sure there's a terminal gate free and a catering truck ready to go as NATS implements a number of new procedures aimed at reducing CO2 emissions by 10 per cent by 2020.


tonnes of CO2 saved a year by absorbing just one minute during linear holding

Benefits of XMAN

Reducing Stack Holding

Allows delay to be absorbed in the more fuel efficient and less congested cruise phase of flight.

Reduced Aircraft Fuel Burn

The trial phase has saved the airlines €4m.

Leading Through Innovation

Pioneering multi-national ANSP cooperation through SWIM enabled architecture.

Influencing International ATM Industry

Realising benefits by introducing interoperability using open standards.

Enabling SESAR Deployment

The world's first deployment of a SESAR based multi-partner cross border extended arrival management system.

Reduced Carbon Emissions

The trial to date has saved 4.7Kt of fuel and 15Kt of CO2 emissions.


"There are two important new aspects to XMAN which really makes it a very advanced procedure. The first is technical. NATS and its partners have designed an airport arrivals management system which automatically calculates the aircraft's arrival delay, it then automatically relays this information to controllers managing the flight in Scotland, Ireland, France and the Netherlands, so we begin to streamline approaches into the airport very early on. The second innovation is in the way ANSPs are now collaborating in Europe to provide a new level of service for their airline and airport customers. We had to design a system which controllers in Maastricht, for example, could safely apply with minimum disruption to their workload and the traffic flows they manage, primarily to help their colleagues in London."

Andrew Burke ATM expert in NATS'
Queue Management Team

The procedure seems simple enough but the technology behind it is truly complex. Once the forecast delay for Heathrow reaches seven minutes, NATS' Harris Orthogon arrivals management system (AMAN) automatically estimates the arrival time of incoming aircraft, and neighbouring ANSPs slow the inbound flight, by up to Mach 0.04, to streamline their approaches into Heathrow.

The information is sent to neighbouring ANSPs where the optimum speed can be shown in a label on the controller's surveillance display. Around 40 per cent of the traffic flying into Heathrow passes through airspace managed by the Maastricht Upper Airspace Centre (MUAC), which also handles flights descending to and climbing from Frankfurt, Munich, Amsterdam and other busy airports, all of whom will be expanding XMAN procedures in the next few years.

This new way of sharing flight information and linking it with optimisation tools to match capacity uses System Wide Information Management (SWIM) enabling technology. SWIM will allow immediate sharing of information between ANSPs, Airlines and Airports, no matter where they are in the world. NATS are leading the way on the development of SWIM enabling technologies. By adding new user interface tools to current systems it will give certified users the opportunity to share detailed information about the status of flights no matter where in the world they may be. With XMAN, NATS are at the forefront of bringing SWIM concepts into daily operations – making flying more predictable, with fewer delays while lowering fuel bills and emissions for airlines and reducing aviation's overall carbon footprint.


maximum delay before aircraft's speed is adjusted

  • Aug 2013
  • Initial Meeting to scope possibility of XMAN with AMAN supplier (Harris Orthogon) and SWIM-WS Supplier (Snowflake Software)

  • Apr 2014
  • Commencement of Phase 1 of XMAN with DSNA Reims, MUAC, IAA & PC

  • May 2014
  • Phase 2 of XMAN commences with DSNA Reims, MUAC, IAA & PC

  • Sept 2014
  • Phase 3 of XMAN commences with DSNA Reims & Brest, MUAC, IAA & PC

  • Dec 2014
  • Approval to make the trial a permanent procedure and Phase 4 of XMAN commences with Reims & Brest , MUAC, IAA & PC

  • Mar 2015
  • XMAN Demonstration at WAC Madrid to critical acclaim showcasing advanced technologies with XMAN Partners

  • Sept 2015
  • PC Transitioned to permanent procedures

  • Nov 2015
  • MUAC transitioned to permanent procedures

  • Autumn 2016
  • IAA to implement permanent procedures, continued involvement under trial conditions during 2016

  • During 2017
  • DSNA continue upgrading XMAN systems and plan to implement permanent procedures

←   Drag the timeline to see how XMAN has progressed   →

It took 18 months of trials to ensure the new procedure could be introduced safely and with minimum disruption to the workload of controllers. Heathrow is now sharing its arrivals management data with controllers at NATS Prestwick, which went live with the procedure in September 2015 and with MUAC, which adopted the procedure full-time in October 2015. Controllers in the Reims and Brest en-route centres managed by the Direction des Services de la Navigation Aérienne (DSNA) in France and the Shannon en-route centre run by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) are operating full-time and the plan is for these to become permanent procedures later this year.

As part of flight trials NATS and its partners, including Airbus and British Airways, carried out an extensive analysis on the impact of XMAN on airline operations, examining 50,000 flights to ensure that losing a few knots of speed en-route would deliver fuel and emission savings while still guaranteeing that the aircraft did not lose its arrivals slot.

XMAN became fully operational at London Heathrow in November 2015. Heathrow is the first European airport to operate the concept, however legislation requires 23 other major European airports to introduce similar Extended Arrivals Management systems in the coming years.

"The work carried out by NATS, DSNA, MUAC and the IAA on XMAN sets a benchmark for operational collaboration between neighbouring ANSPs and FABs in support of the Single European Sky. It is all about working together to deliver SESAR concepts into operation, in order to provide a better service to Europe’s airspace users and to reduce the environmental impact of flying. And XMAN at Heathrow is just the start. We will be working with NATS and others to introduce this new operational concept across the wider FABEC airspace, and in particular in France, in the coming years."

Maurice Georges CEO DSNA

Award Winning System

SESAR SWIM Master Class 2013
Best in Class
ATM Information Service

IET Innovation Awards 2014
Highly Commended
Intelligent Systems Category

IHS Jane's ATC Awards 2015
Enabling Technology Award


But this is just the first iteration of the concept which will help NATS deliver even greater time, fuel and emission savings for customers in the future and it has global applications which will benefit airspace users in many parts of the world.


"XMAN opens the door to a new generation of customer-focused tools to save fuel and emissions and increase airport operational predictability. SWIM solutions like XMAN have applications in all parts of the world, ensuring streamlined approaches into busy airports day and night. XMAN enables airports like Heathrow to cut orbital holding times and we see further applications where other major hubs affected by factors like bad weather can completely avoid holding altogether."

Paul Nicholls NATS Queue Management ATC Lead

The introduction of XMAN at Heathrow, which has involved extensive cross-border applications with neighbouring ANSPs, has given NATS a unique experience in working with colleagues and customers, including technology partners and certification agencies, to bring the result of the SESAR research into daily operations.

"Anything which reduces the time we have to spend in holding stacks waiting for an arrival slot has got to be good news. Even in a minute or so saved translates into a substantial difference to our fuel bill measured over a year of operations – and a decline in our carbon footprint. In the future we expect further time and emission savings as more versions of XMAN become available, ensuring we are using scarce airport resources more efficiently. For the passengers it will mean giving them more time to make vital connections."

Spencer Norton Fuel Efficiency Manager
at British Airways

"We have been working for many months with NATS on flight trials into Heathrow. The good news is we have managed to integrate XMAN seamlessly into our arrivals procedures. Pilots have been able to absorb the speed reduction requirements in a routine way. Eventually, once we have fully migrated the XMAN procedures into the aircraft's flight management system, we should expect the entire process to be automated, with the ground and airborne computers securely linked to negotiate the most fuel efficient and environmentally sensitive approaches into busy airports everywhere in the world."

Mark Hurston Regional Manager International ATC
Operations at United Airlines

With XMAN NATS has opened a door into the future.

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