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CEO Update

Martin Rolfe

Welcome to our 2018 Customer Report on NATS’ performance over the last calendar year – the busiest year on record for UK air traffic movements both domestic and oceanic and the sixth consecutive year of traffic growth. […]

I’m acutely aware of the tough operating conditions that are challenging the industry and we will continue to work closely with you to ensure we address the areas that concern you most. Reviewing the feedback in our latest Airline Customer Survey – and thank you for providing the best-ever overall score. We achieved that result in the year we delivered a number of changes including EXCDS into the operation. I’m especially grateful for the recognition this pays to the detailed work we did with you to help manage the impact of delays during the transition periods – and that we were able to deliver EXCDS with less delay than we planned for.

While you continue to score us lower on our costs the score has improved and, I’m delighted that last year we’ve shown how NATS is improving. We are rapidly going down the European charges scale, from 3rd in 2016 to 10th last year continuing to reduce our price to customers. In 2018, we handled 24% of European traffic, we were accountable for only 2.9% of the ANSP attributable European delays. It came as no surprise that your three top priorities in the survey are flight efficiency, airspace modernisation and capacity. All three are inextricably linked with the airspace modernisation programme which will be such a central focus over the next five years.

Having been tasked by the Secretary of State with delivering the change programme, we have now set up the Airspace Change Organising Group, sponsored by the DFT and CAA, and expect it to be up and running by the summer. It has taken time to agree the governance, but I’m confident that it is robust and will deliver the modernisation programme you expect.

In the meantime, we continue to upgrade our network with airspace improvements in Swanwick and advanced Flexible Use Airspace, as well as some of the Prestwick deployments planned for the coming year.

And these airspace improvements will be maximised by technology deployments including EXCDS and our new SESAR compliant air traffic management system (DP En Route), which is planned to enter service in 2020. We will continue to press for improved environmental performance. Last year we delivered fuel savings and our flight efficiency performance both better than target.

These of course are at the heart of our business plan currently being finalised for the next regulatory period (RP3) for 2020-24. I would also like to thank our customers for the input to the consultation in 2018, the outcome of which is now in the hands of the regulator to determine the UK’s national performance plan for RP3. Finally, 2019 will see the start of a transformation of our oceanic operation with the introduction of space based ADS-B trials of variable Mach, reduced separations and safety nets. This really is a game changer and from 2020 will enable aircraft to flight plan step climbs and fly cost index on the North Atlantic (NAT). Importantly it will also deliver a 76% improvement in vertical safety risk and early in RP3 allow aircraft to fly user preferred routes rather than being locked into an Organised Track Structure. The benefits in fuel burn and safety are clear to see. You challenged us hard on the business case but we look forward to demonstrating the benefits in trials during 2019. I am absolutely confident that this will be another great step forward and we’re delighted to be a part of that offering to you having become a shareholder in Aireon.

As we face another year of growth, with a busy summer forecast, we will continue to focus our attention and energy on giving you the service you expect. I hope this report is useful and my door is always open should you wish to discuss any aspect of it.

Martin Rolfe
Chief Executive Officer

Customer Survey

Customer survey summary

Despite a challenging year for the aviation sector you have told us that you are more satisfied than you have been since we started running our customer survey.

Overall customer satisfaction with NATS came out at 8.57 out of 10 - better than last year’s score of 8.45 and a significant step up when compared with 8.07 in 2016. This high score was achieved during a year when we delivered a significant change to introduce our electronic flight progress strip system, EXCDS, into Terminal Control, new airspace and the introduction of enhanced Time Based Separation (eTBS) for Heathrow.


For customer satisfaction

The priorities of our customers are clear – improved flight efficiency, modernisation of the airspace to enable greater capacity and to further reduce delays, and management of costs. We have recognised that our airspace is no longer fit for purpose and the work we have been doing to address this has created the springboard towards wider airspace modernisation in the coming years. The changes will allow for increased capacity and therefore enable growth in the sector, while at the same time improving efficiency for airline operators with routes designed for aircraft in the 21st Century.

As with last year, customers scored those questions related to safety highest (more than 9 out of 10). They included:

  • Proactive management of safety
  • Working with customers to drive safety improvements
  • Provision of timely and effective responses to safety events

One question that scored low (less than 8 out of 10) was on cost efficiency. As in previous years customer comments recognised the quality of the air traffic control service provided by NATS but still requested that a clear focus is kept on keeping costs down. By the end of 2018 NATS was the tenth most expensive ANSP in Europe. This is a downward trend moving from third highest in 2016 to seventh in 2017 and now tenth, this is a 27% reduction in charges in real terms since the start of RP2*.

The effectiveness of the Safety Partnership Agreement (SPA) Meetings continue to be an important area of focus for customers as does following up on the previous year’s survey.

Management of the RP3 customer consultation scored significantly higher in delivery than importance which reflects some of the very positive discussions that have been held with customers in the past year.

Strongest scores

  • Proactive management of safety
  • Working with customers to drive safety improvements
  • Provision of timely and effective responses to safety events

Priority Areas

  • Flight Efficiency
  • Airspace Modernisation
  • Capacity/Delay
  • Cost
  • Safety
  • Customer Engagement
  • Airfield Operations
  • Oceanic Operations
  • Collaboration/Influencing

Comparison with Previous Years

The areas for improvement from last year’s survey were the Environment, Airspace & Flight Efficiency Partnership, Safety Partnership Agreement and Cost efficiency, which sees no significant change from previous years. It is these questions that have seen the biggest improvements in score in 2018 when compared to 2017.

  • Environment
  • Airspace & Flight Efficiency Partnership
  • Safety Partnership Agreement
  • Cost Effiency

Response Rate

This year we sent our survey to 64 organisations – including airlines and business aviation.

We had responses from 32 organisations – a 50% return – and they represented 62% of NATS’ customers by revenue and 54% by aircraft movements.


By the end of 2018 the Unit Rate – the cost that NATS levies for its monopoly services through NERL – was the lowest in real terms that it has ever been.

When compared to other European countries NATS now sits 10th in the table of costs – less expensive than other major ANSPs across Europe.

Traffic Growth & Delays

Traffic Growth & Delays

NATS handled 2,635,849 movements in 2018 – the busiest year in UK skies since 2007 when air traffic was at its peak of 2,627,565 movements.

Over the course of 2018 the UK saw a 0.9% increase in traffic when compared with 2017.

The summer months in particular saw flight records broken as travel in May, June and July exceeded previous peaks. A record high of 8,854 flights handled by NATS controllers in the UK was recorded on 25 May 2018.

Transatlantic & overflights climbing

Traffic figures have also shown that the growth in transatlantic flights is continuing at significant levels – transatlantic overflights were up by 5.4% whilst non-transatlantic overflights also increased significantly during 2018 – up by 8.4%. In fact Transatlantic flights have continuously broken records since 2014.

Traffic increase continues
Transatlantic overflights up

Traffic handled by Swanwick Centre grew by 1.8% while Prestwick Centre saw an increase of 1.3%. Terminal Control at Swanwick recorded the strongest unit growth at 2.4%.

But those figures standing on their own do not reflect the pressure that certain parts of the airspace structure have been under in the past 12 months.

Growth in the south east of England has continued to be significant with Stansted leading the surge with a 6.3% increase in traffic when compared with the previous year. With continued growth at Luton Airport as well during the year this has led to some key sectors of UK airspace in the south east operating at capacity at busy times of the day.

Plans are being advanced for airspace modernisation to accommodate future growth and expansion while maintaining safety - and the need for this modernisation has never been more evident than it is today.

Air traffic in 2019 is forecast to increase by at least one per cent in the UK Flight Information Region (FIR), with a further two per cent increase expected in 2020.

Transatlantic & overflights climbing

Traffic figures have also shown that the growth in transatlantic flights is continuing at significant levels – transatlantic overflights were up by 5.4% whilst non-transatlantic overflights also increased significantly during 2018 – up by 8.4%. In fact Transatlantic flights have continuously broken records since 2014.

Delays kept to a minimum

Despite increased traffic levels and the delivery of EXCDS into Terminal Control, which created forecast and planned-for delays, delay attributable to NATS was 12.5 seconds average delay per flight. Excluding the delays generated by the implementation of EXCDS the underlying NATS Enroute delay was 7.7 seconds per flight. This is in stark contrast to 2007, our previous busiest year where the figure was 26.8 seconds per flight (see EXCDS section for more information).

Delay per flight in 2018
Delay per flight in 2007

The Swanwick Airpace

Improvement Project Airspace Deployment 6 (AD6) is developing an improvement to the TC Essex/Luton operation which will remove the dependency of Luton operations on the ABBOT and LOREL holds and enable the safe growth in capacity which is forecast to be required. AD6 is targeting winter 2020/21.

This performance represents a 60% reduction in delay and can largely be attributed to continued investment, the introduction of new technology as well as airspace change and the hard work of our operational teams. During 2018 NATS handled 24% of all European air traffic but had only 2.9% of the total ANSP attributable throughout the continent. Industrial relations and capacity issues created problems throughout the year for other European ANSPs, and this is also a challenge for us all as flights operate off schedule creating new peaks of demand and change their routing through the airspace to avoid congested sectors.

OPA – Improving Delay Performance

Through the OPA (Operational Partnership Agreement) we continue to work with our airline customers to keep them updated on NATS airspace and technology progress, to highlight where there may be any impact on their operations and to work with them on ways to mitigate this and improve delay performance. We collaborated closely to update customers throughout the first half of 2018 with details of the EXCDS transitions and what the estimated impact was in terms of delay. Customers, both airports and airlines, worked closely with us to help mitigate the delays due to the transition. We have received positive feedback from customers and the Network Manager and agreed it would be a good model to follow for the forthcoming technology and airspace changes.

UK airspace under pressure

Wide reaching changes to how UK airspace is designed and managed will be needed to stave off the capacity crunch now in evidence over Europe.

There are already symptoms of it in the UK, where some sectors are unable to manage the peak capacity.

Some changes are already underway to address this (see note on AD6) but what is fundamentally needed is a redesign of the airspace which still has its roots in the 1960s. This is no small undertaking and we are pleased to say that airspace modernisation now Government policy. Starting in 2019, NATS is working with airport and airline partners with the creation of an Airspace Change Organising Group to agree how best to deliver it. The expectation is to be able to bring forward airspace change options for public consultation in the next two years, with a view to having changes in place by 2024/25.

Airspace Modernisation

Airspace Modernisation

Modernising UK airspace

Customers’ top priority in the Survey is airspace modernisation, a continued theme from 2017.

NATS delivered its feasibility report on modernising UK airspace to the Secretary of State for Transport in May 2018.

This was followed by a CAA assurance report and culminated with the Secretary of State asking NATS to manage and coordinate the programme to change airspace in the south east of the UK up to the opening of a third runway at Heathrow.

As a result of the work conducted by NATS, supported by all of our stakeholders, the Secretary of State for Transport set up the UK Airspace Strategy Board which has placed airspace modernisation right at the forefront of the government’s agenda.

We have built on the success of the Future Airspace Strategy and are bringing together 15 airports and NATS into a single committed programme.

To manage the programme we are creating a separate entity known as ACOG (Airspace Change Organising Group) that sits within the CAA/Department for Transport-sponsored UK Airspace Modernisation Strategy.

This initiative is not just about modernising airspace to meet Heathrow growth but is to remove airspace as a constraint to aviation growth and to generate capacity to significantly exceed our customers’ demands.

We are now concentrating on working with the airports to integrate their requirements, creating a single ACOG Programme delivery plan for 2024/25.

Within the London Airspace Modernisation Programme (LAMP) we are also continuing to use data driven design tools to develop a new en-route network. The developments are being integrated with the airports’ own developments and new tools are being developed for airspace design. We continue to work collaboratively with customers on jointly developing airspace design through the AFEP and Lead Operator Working Group.

AFEP – Wider engagement with airlines on airspace changes

Airspace has now been added to the original Flight Efficiency Partnership (FEP) terms of reference in recognition of the additional requirement for NATS to engage with airlines on airspace changes under the new CAA Airspace Change Process (CAP1616).

This now provides the right environment for disseminating key information on airspace changes and for NATS to engage with airlines to seek feedback on plans.

In the first year of the CAP1616 process, NATS have ten ACPs in place with two already approved – SAIP modules AD3 and AD4 which were implemented in December 2018.

SAIP delivers deployments

The Swanwick Airspace Improvement Project (SAIP) has continued to monitor and gain evidence from the use of the RNAV1 routes and STARs deployed in 2017.

This experience was fed into the two most recent Airspace Deployments (ADs) which both went live in December 2018.

SAIP AD4 involved significant changes across the UK/Netherlands interface and simultaneous changes to Maastricht and Amsterdam centres’ operations. AD3 was a smaller scale change introducing uni-directional routes to the main UK/Channel Islands interface.

SAIP is now focussed on the final two deployments. AD5 is planned to enter service in November 2019 and, subject to CAA approval, to introduce new flexible use airspace on Area Control West with new routes for Birmingham arrivals and departures and a new off-load route for Heathrow Oceanic traffic. There will also be a series of shorter east/west routes for traffic overflying the UK.

AD6 is targeting winter 2020/21 with an improvement to the TC Essex/Luton operation which will remove the dependency of Luton operations on the ABBOT and LOREL holds and help to enable the safe growth in capacity which is forecast to be required.

PLAS – Deployments planned for lower level airspace changes

Prestwick Lower Airspace Systemisation (PLAS) has a number of deployments scheduled in 2019 which will support the introduction of PBN and RNAV at lower level as well as remove some dependencies on traditional navigation aids.

The next deployments include:

  • Newcastle – RNAV1 STAR to be introduced
  • Doncaster – a number of new RNAV1 SIDs and STARs to be introduced and additional controlled airspace to replace existing conventional procedures
  • Birmingham – will introduce a number of new RNAV1 SIDs as an enabler for future airspace change in the Manchester TMA.
  • Scottish Terminal Airspace changes have been deferred following the decision by the CAA to not approve the airspace change at Edinburgh Airport and until the impacts to Enroute are clearly understood.
  • Alongside this, Glasgow Airport now have revised their deployment date for their airspace change to Spring 2021. PLAS is looking to identify opportunities to align Glasgow and Edinburgh into a single deployment once the airspace changes are defined and understood.
  • Manchester’s TMA redesign is scheduled for deployment in March 2022 and the scope of this includes new RNAV1 SIDs and STARs for East Midlands, Liverpool and Manchester Airport and arrival procedure changes for Birmingham.

Advanced Flexible Use of Airspace

During 2018 work continued to ensure that utilisation of airspace is improved by all airspace users and we have continued to provide analysis to customers, which has helped all parties understand the opportunities available.

Through the collaborative Flexible Use of Airspace State Programme (FSP), we instigated and led the implementation of FUA State Programme airspace management trials during 2018. These trials looked at operational processes to enable enhanced collaborative decision making with the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

At the same time the MoD trialled the centralisation of their tactical airspace management function. The trials successfully delivered a reduction of segregated airspace in times of civil demand and improved tactical airspace management in the release of airspace for civil use.

As a result, the operational processes have become normal business and the MoD has committed to the permanent establishment of a centralised tactical airspace management function went operational in February 2019.

NATS worked closely with the MoD and other stakeholders in planning for a proposed airspace change which has increased the amount of airspace required for military training. The CAA approved the MoD change in November 2018 with the changes (known as Project Lightning) being introduced this Spring.

There have been changes to the management of other military training areas in 2018. The East Anglia Military Training Area, over the North Sea, has been modernised making more airspace accessible to airspace users, and other developments include the south coast danger areas that are anticipated to bring further improvement to the network.

Airspace Modernisation

Technology Modernisation

EXCDS – thank you to all our customers

The final two Swanwick Terminal Control (TC) sectors, Midlands and Capital, transitioned to electronic flight strips (EXCDS) in June 2018 to mark the finale of this significant project, which was completed in July with no safety related events. This transition is a major milestone toward the delivery of our deploying SESAR programme. The biggest challenge and delay was the transition of Heathrow and Gatwick Approach sectors together with Terminal Control south sectors, just after the busy Easter weekend.

We liaised extensively with customers well in advance of the first EXCDS transition in 2017, explaining what was going to happen and the likely out-turn in terms of delays for the 5 planned transitions in Nov 2017, Jan, April, May & June 2018. The airline and airport customers worked with NATS to help mitigate the impacts to their operations during the transition periods.

We hosted some of our customers in July at our Swanwick Centre to review the whole project and identify lessons learned so we can implement good practice in future transitions. Customer feedback was very positive and they praised us for the way we carried out and communicated the transitions.

Customers have been keen to see the benefits accruing from the introduction of EXCDS during 2018. While there have been benefits already in better managing workload, especially on Heathrow approach sectors, and increasing capacity, notably on Essex airspace we are still assessing the overall benefits of the new technology which look to be significant in terms of capacity, safety and environmental improvements. This will become clearer when the post-implementation review is conducted in June 2019.

A special thank you

We thank our customers for their patience and understanding during the transition and subsequent bedding in and we look forward to their continued involvement in planning transitions for current and future projects to minimise impact to their operations.

Reduction in stack delay following introduction of eTBS

eTBS gives Heathrow 30 minutes back in their busy day

Heathrow’s time based separation (TBS) system for aircraft on final approach was upgraded to become ‘enhanced TBS’ (eTBS). This introduced new Optimised Runway Delivery, Runway Occupancy Time indicators and a change to the wake vortex classification.

The results from the introduction of TBS and then eTBS have been better than forecast, with approximately 2.2 additional aircraft landing per hour in all wind conditions. The arrival rate in strong headwinds (greater than 20 knots on approach) has seen an increase of 4.2 aircraft per hour.

Comparing all arrivals since eTBS was introduced shows an average saving of 1,794 seconds per day in arrival-arrival time separations on Heathrow final approach. That is equivalent capacity to extending Heathrow’s operating day by 29.9 minutes.

In addition, average stack delay has fallen by one minute, a reduction of 24%.

eTBS still shows wake pair markers or separation indications to the approach controllers but the additional functionality it provides now models the compression between each aircraft pair as they slow down their landing speed. The tools also provide controllers with runway occupancy indications for pairs of arriving aircraft when that is more limiting than wake separation.

DP En Route: Live operations

Now that EXCDS has been delivered, NATS moves on to the next phase of modernising the air traffic infrastructure. The next significant phase is delivering iTEC into upper airspace, bringing Swanwick and Prestwick Enroute on to a common platform. This will be followed by Deployment Point (DP) Lower, which will see Swanwick and Prestwick Lower airspace transition onto the same iTEC platform and finally allow us to decommission our legacy equipment. The transition plan is being developed to start using this new technology in the operation, and we will work in collaboration with airlines and airports to minimise impact to their operations.

We have already started talking to customers to provide information as it becomes available and that will be refined as we move closer to transition.

Collaboration with McLaren Deloitte

A collaboration agreement with McLaren Deloitte is aimed at transforming how operational decisions are made and bringing innovative products to the aviation industry.

We are combining our expertise, bringing together state-of-the-art analytics and data science with our real-world experience of network and airport capacity management. During every Formula 1 race, McLaren takes into account millions of possible scenarios to then model the outcome of a range of tactical decisions. Meanwhile, Deloitte is renowned for their experience in using data analytics to deliver large consulting projects globally.


These capabilities, combined with our expertise in managing congested and complex airspace and airports, are now being deployed to help the aviation industry understand and accurately predict the impact of decisions before they are even made.

Performance Optimiser is the first product to emerge from the collaboration and we are already evaluating this tool to help balance traffic flows against capacity and identify opportunities to improve performance.

Bristol transitions to electronic flight strips

Bristol Airport successfully moved to electronic flight strips, joining many of our other airports.

The transition to electronic flight progress strips (EFPS) at Bristol made it the fourth airport to operate on the Hub and Spoke system, where the central servers are located at Swanwick instead of on the unit, along with Belfast City, Belfast International and Farnborough airports.

Our last airport transition to Hub and Spoke will take place in 2020.

Airspace Modernisation

Oceanic Modernisation

Plans for RP3 on the ocean

The advent of satellite based surveillance offers an opportunity for us to transform our service. We will deliver safety improvements on the North Atlantic to meet ICAO targets, as well as delivering capacity growth to meet the rising demand over the Ocean. Airlines will be able to plan and fly routes that are significantly more predictable and fuel efficient than currently possible.

Increasing capacity as Oceanic traffic soars

With Oceanic traffic at record levels the introduction of Performance Based Communications and Surveillance (PBCS) separation standards in March 2018 enabled us to reduce separation across the Atlantic. The introduction of PBCS replaced RLat and RLong separations in Oceanic airspace.

PBCS means that NATS Shanwick can now reduce separation between certified aircraft to five minutes longitudinal (currently 10 minutes) and to 30nm laterally (currently 60nm). That also means that more aircraft can now achieve their optimum flight profile in Oceanic airspace.

Airlines have to get state approval for PBCS operations for each airframe. Currently c.66% of all flights in Oceanic airspace benefit from PBCS.

Next generation of aircraft surveillance over North Atlantic

January this year saw the launch of the final 10 Iridium NEXT satellites carrying Aireon’s space-based ADS-B payloads which will enable the next generation of aircraft surveillance over the North Atlantic.

NATS’ Telstar project’s aim is to deliver a permanent solution to airlines unable to achieve ICAO Data Link Mandate (DLM) in the South East corner of Oceanic airspace.

Phase One this spring will deliver changes to the communication processes for Tango Route traffic, plus the implementation of ATS surveillance and VHF capabilities.

Phase Two in January 2020 will deliver the airspace change, including new routes. A new route, T290 will run 20nm west of and parallel to the existing T9. In addition, reduced separation standards will increase flexibility and efficiency in this airspace.

Telstar will also introduce Advanced Surveillance-Enabled Procedural Separations (ASEPS) with further reductions to longitudinal and lateral separation standards and removal of mandatory speed instructions with a new process called Operations Without Fixed Assigned Speed (OWAFS). There will be safety benefits with increased situational awareness and faster notification of aircraft non-conformance.

c. %
of Oceanic flights benefit from PBCS

Investing in Aireon

There is a clear case for change for surveillance on the North Atlantic, and NATS is addressing this, seeking to harness the benefits of Space based ADS-B.

Consultations with customers about the business case took place in 2018 and we are now talking to customers about how best to deploy this technology over the North Atlantic, the busiest area of oceanic airspace in the world, starting with trials this year. Operational trials will be held from 2019 to deliver the capacity and safety benefits that the airspace requires to keep pace with demand. This same technology will also deliver fuel savings and CO2 reductions.

Analysis jointly undertaken with NAV CANADA, endorsed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), projects an approximately 76% reduction in safety risk from using the Aireon service.

NATS services, the commercial arm of our business, has made a 10% investment in Aireon. This enables NATS to shape the future of surveillance services in a way that benefits our customers in the UK and elsewhere, and demonstrates our commitment to play a leading role in the development of the next generation of global air traffic technology.

In the longer term this investment is in line with our purpose to advance aviation and keep the skies safe. This is a transformational technology that will deliver the world’s first truly global air traffic control infrastructure, making flying even safer and more efficient.

Aireon surveillance

Through a network of 66 low Earth orbiting Iridium® NEXT satellites, Aireon will monitor the location of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) equipped aircraft flying anywhere in the world, transforming the way air traffic control services are provided.

UK flights will rise to 2.8m per annum in RP3


Our RP3 business plan

After 15 consultation meetings during 2018 with our airline customers and airports we have now submitted our plan to the CAA. It required a huge amount of effort to support a consultation of this size and to prepare a plan that covers every aspect of NATS Enroute plc’s business. We received compliments from our customers on the open, transparent and detailed nature of the consultation. They agreed with many important elements of our plan, and its main objectives remain the same – to safely manage increasing traffic while completing our investment in the technology and airspace modernisation programmes.

Our August 2018 traffic forecast indicated that UK flights will rise by an additional 10% during RP3 to 2.8m per annum, around 1.5% higher than we forecast in our initial business plan. Airspace modernisation emerged strongly as a key priority for airlines.


We can expect to have record traffic levels every year during RP3 and to meet that demand we have proposed our biggest ever technology and airspace modernisation programme - and we are proposing to do that with prices that are 14% lower in RP3 than they are currently in RP2. We will be keeping our very high service levels too.

We believe this is the best plan for our customers, the travelling public, the wider industry and for NATS and its employees. It will enable us to continue to provide a safe, resilient and strong level of service through RP3 and to make critical changes for the future of aviation.



Over the course of 2018 we delivered a safe and efficient service, while continuing to manage record traffic levels and technology change.

Last year we reported that our ambitious internal safety performance targets had remained challenging for the enroute side of the business. This year, despite our centres experiencing their busiest ever traffic days, there has been a noticeable improvement in safety performance during the latter part of 2018. This improvement is the combined effect of a series of factors including the management of changes in the operation and targeted safety improvement activities.

Losses of separation involving infringing aircraft increased during the spring and summer’s good weather conditions for GA flying. However, the severity of the events remained low.

Safety improvement actions on controlled airspace infringements continued during 2018 through supporting the CAA with implementing the five-point plan. This has included participating in all the local airspace infringement teams where NATS provides approach services. Our main focus has been supporting and influencing the CAA’s strategy on the universal adoption of Electronic Conspicuity (EC) technology.

The CAA has indicated that EC will play a vital role in future airspace development, focusing on efficient use of and access to new airspace constructs.

Our RP3 negotiations commenced with safety at its core. The plan for RP3 addresses the emerging safety risk from the increasing use of drones by proposing a package of measures that are designed to integrate new airspace users while maintaining the safety of commercial air traffic.

Looking forward, the plan to deploy spaced based ADS-B surveillance in Oceanic airspace will bring significant safety benefits. While the development of future commercial space operations will require NATS to evolve its thinking and approach to the safe use of airspace.

SPA continues to bring safety into sharp focus

The SPA (Safety Partnership Agreement) has continued through 2018 to provide focus on safety collaboration between NATS and its airline customers.

The group meets every six months to share and discuss safety issues and during the intervening period works consultatively to deal with those areas of concern.

There is a broad variety of subjects addressed. Some of these are instigated by the airlines - such as reinvigorating the CAA’s level bust working group; enhancing quarterly statistics to include a breakdown of “failure to follow ATC procedures” and weather disruption contingency plans.

Other subjects raised by the NATS members include:- Department for Transport levels of disruptive passenger awareness; ILS phraseology and proposed new TMZ procedures.

Sharing information is a key attribute of the SPA with members sharing their safety plans with each other and exchanging ideas on best practice.

Awareness material is produced by the members for wider distribution where considered beneficial and in 2018 this included a “Heading Tolerance” article.


Figures published by the UK Airprox Board for 2018 show a continued rise of incidents involving drones and civil aircraft. There were a total of 125 near misses between drones and aircraft reported in 2018 - up 34% on the total of 93 in the whole of 2017.

NATS continued to support a number of different education and awareness activities in partnership with the CAA. This included the development of an on-line training package for hobbyists that has been designed to become a mandatory element of the national drone registration system – due to come into effect later in 2019.

We continue to influence and monitor standards at a regional and international level to ensure that NATS remains aligned with industry and our fellow ANSPs.

In early 2018, NATS successfully completed the automation of our Non-Standard Flight (NSF) request process in order to address the increased demand and risk from drone users. This already provides NATS with a clearer picture of requests from General Aviation to enter Controlled Airspace and went live in early 2019, for all requests from drone operators where such processes and exclusions apply.

Since the events at Gatwick and elsewhere before Christmas, the Department for Transport has published the results of its consultation last year and has made proposals to extend drone exclusion zones. This accords with our response to the consultation and our recommendations.

Operation Zenith

We delivered a world first trial where we brought together a number of drone and manned aircraft operational scenarios within a complex airspace environment.

The range of operations was intended to reflect current and realistic near-term drone use under visual and beyond visual line of sight rules both within and external to an airport. These scenarios were constructed to demonstrate a range of unmanned traffic management capabilities.

The demonstration was completed safely and has generated huge levels of interest from other national and regional ANSPs/regulators as the clearest representation to date of how to safely integrate manned and unmanned aviation.

Near misses between drones and aircraft in 2018


Being responsible

In 2018 we launched a new Responsible Business policy which aligns us with good practices already adopted by the companies represented by our Board and our customers, suppliers and peers. It makes good business sense as it meets our customer needs, mitigates risks and helps attract and retain talent, as well as creating reputational advantage. Being responsible is something we do individually every day and in a company like NATS, we have a big opportunity to embrace this commitment.

Our environmental programme was recognised by the National Transport Awards in 2018, in the Contribution to Sustainable Transport category for demonstrating tangible results in sustainability, improvements to the experience of transport users and contribution to the success of the UK’s transport infrastructure.

3Di tactical performance in 2018

Our 3Di metric allows us to measure how efficiently we manage flight profiles. The first few months of 2018 were particularly challenging, partly due to a disproportionate number of easterly operation days. With our operations set up most efficiently for the usual westerly traffic, we know this can have a significant impact on the 3Di score.

Improvements were driven by a number of factors, including focus on traffic management and tools for reduced holding (particularly in Terminal Control), identification of differences in watch performance and the provision of specific data to help controllers understand where improvements could be made, working with airlines for improved airline flight planning, airspace changes and the introduction of EXCDS which improved the efficiency of coordination in Terminal Control.

The 3Di score steadily improved, with the final score for the year at 29.2 –below our penalty threshold of 29.5.

Airspace fuel and CO2 emissions

Our success in managing our regulatory 3Di target was matched by our performance in delivering fuel burn savings to customers in 2018. Small scale unit-led projects, including SID truncations, delivered savings of 23 kT fuel against a target of 10 kT for 2018. This represents a saving of £9.9m* in fuel costs for airlines. These projects are typically led by our controllers, in collaboration with airlines and others at the Airspace and Flight Efficiency Partnership.

These successes are, unfortunately, contrasted by our acknowledgement that we will not reach our ambitious 10% reduction in average CO2 per flight within the original timeframe of 2020. In 2008 we voluntarily adopted this long term commitment and made excellent progress by 2015. Our plan for 2015-2020 would have reached this 10% reduction. However, as a result of the negative environmental and social impact from aircraft noise - particularly in the south east of England, as well as changes to Government policy, this plan could not be delivered. Alternative options were considered, with those delivering in the short term prioritised, leaving more complex opportunities to feed into the 2020-2025 plan which was consulted on separately in 2018.

Despite this set-back, as a result of a number of airspace projects and other initiatives in 2018, our progress towards the 10% commitment increased to 6.7% (from 5.3%). We will continue to track our performance against the commitment as we modernise airspace and deploy new tools and systems to manage the traffic as safely and efficiency as possible.

Sustainable Aviation

We continue to be proactive in the Sustainable Aviation coalition, pursuing opportunities to improve environmental performance of our services and working with airlines, airports, manufacturers and others across industry where we share responsibility. The continuous descent campaign continues to show year on year improvement, with the overall performance for coalition partners reaching 88.3% in 2018.

Our support for Heathrow and Gatwick airports in 2018 has continued, as they engage with communities affected by aircraft noise. This has been complimented by our engagement with the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority on noise policy and aviation strategy consultations.

International & New Business

International & New Business

Meeting the growth in demand for Indian aviation

NATS has started working with Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) and Airports Authority of India (AAI), to help increase capacity in the capital.

We’ve been working with DIAL and AAI, the Indian air navigation service provider, in an advisory capacity for many years.

India’s aviation capacity is predicted by IATA to grow by approximately 20% per annum, projected to exceed the UK, around 2025, as the third largest aviation hub by 2020.

Construction begins on Delhi’s fourth runway this year. This contract and our collaboration to date will support the airport’s owners to continue to meet the growth in demand until new infrastructure becomes available, in turn supporting India’s economic growth plans.

Cooperation agreement with HungaroControl

NATS signed an agreement with HungaroControl in Hungary with the view to collaborating on digital tower projects around the world.

The framework agreement brings together expertise in the development and application of digital tower technology.

In 2017, HungaroControl announced that Budapest Airport would become the first medium-capacity airport in the world where its air traffic controllers manage traffic from a digital tower. Regulatory certification has already been given and HungaroControl is planning to move to a full-time ‘digital’ operation by 2020.

Changi Airport will be the first to benefit from this new agreement. In November 2017, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore appointed NATS to lead a team, which includes HungaroControl and Searidge, to develop a digital smart tower prototype for Changi.

Partnership agreement with Brisbane Airport Corporation

A new partnership with Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) for a range of airport and air traffic services to support the growth of Brisbane Airport over the next two-and-a-half years has been agreed.

Under the relationship agreement, NATS will provide BAC with consultancy services to support various projects BAC is currently undertaking as part of its airport expansion Master Plan initiative, which includes the construction of a new parallel runway.

Brisbane Airport expects its annual passenger traffic through its domestic and international terminals to double from 22 million in 2014 to 50 million by 2035. It also forecast the number of annual aircraft movements to grow to 360,000 by 2035, up from 227,000 currently.

NATS and Searidge announce digital tower research laboratory

NATS and Searidge Technologies are to launch a UK-based digital tower research and development programme designed to improve efficiency, weather resilience and contingency operations at the world’s busiest airports.

The programme will centre on a brand-new state-of-the-art digital tower research laboratory located at Heathrow Airport control tower.

Artificial Intelligence will deliver clear views of the airport to traffic controllers when visibility is good, but more importantly, when it’s significantly compromised.

The system will comprise two controller positions with a newly developed, highly intuitive user interface and, for the first time ever in a digital tower, 4K day/night cameras. These, together with independent pan-tilt-zoom cameras, will be used to present a totally seamless panoramic view of the airport and surrounding airspace on an ultra-high definition video wall.

Distributed cameras around the airport will provide enhanced surveillance of hold lines to improve resilience in adverse weather conditions, while data from the airport’s Advanced Surface Movement Guidance and Control System will be integrated with the Searidge system to offer controllers enhanced situational awareness via customised data overlays.

Achieving capacity increases in Hong Kong

NATS has established a multi-year Operational Partnership with HKAA (Hong Kong Airport Authority), and HK CAD (Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department) that will see NATS provide more than 50 Air Traffic Control Officers (ATCOs) in support of operations at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA).

In addition to supplying ATCOs NATS is providing consultancy services, support tools, and training as part of NATS overall commitment to the HKAA and HK CAD as we continue to support HKIA in delivering the necessary operational efficiencies required to meet the significant forecast growth in traffic and people movements at HKIA, whilst delivering into service one of the airports largest ever infrastructure development projects namely, Runway 3 (R3).

This year has also seen the establishment of NATS Services (Hong Kong) limited and our further inward investment to address local needs through the employment and training of local staff to further enhance NATS local capabilities in terms of Operational Analytics, and Operational Safeguarding.

Air Traffic Control Officers in support of operations at Hong Kong International Airport

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