Press update: October 2009

08 October 2009

This press update is intended to keep you informed of the latest news from NATS.


  • New North Sea Radar system introduced
  • World’s First Approved Virtual Control Room Implemented for Heathrow
  • Stansted Transponder Mandatory Zone.
  • NATS leads SESAR analysis project
  • NATS joins International Council on Systems Engineering’s Advisory Board
  • Millionth Flight
  • New General Manager at Gibraltar Airport

Regular Features

  • Air Traffic by the numbers.
  • NATS in the Community
  • NATS and the Environment

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Welcome to the NATS Press Update, a monthly bulletin of news from the UK’s leading air traffic services provider.

The guiding principle of air traffic control is that safety is paramount. Our objective is to maintain and, where practicable, improve standards to achieve the highest levels of safety performance. The whole structure and culture of NATS is built around safety.

Within this safety driven environment, we deliver an efficient, effective service to our customers, directing over 2.4 million flights and 220 million passengers safely through some of the busiest and most complex airspace in the world each year.

New North Sea Radar system introduced

This major safety enhancement will allow air traffic controllers at Aberdeen airport to see helicopters on their radar screens in areas of the North Sea which, until now, have been beyond the reach of land-based radars. There are over 25,000 helicopter trips made each year between Aberdeen and the oil and gas platforms in the North Sea. This is the world’s first operational use of multilateration technology to track offshore flights.

World’s First Approved Virtual Control Room Implemented for Heathrow

NATS Services Ltd (NSL) has developed and put into service the world’s first full safety certified virtual airport contingency control room that can keep flights moving through Heathrow airport in the event of a serious incident at the airport’s main control tower.

Housed in a windowless facility away from the airfield, the VCF ensures that Heathrow can still operate at up to 70% of its flights if the main control tower was out of action. Before the new control tower become operational, contingency arrangements would have delivered only around 10% of flights. 

Stansted Transponder Mandatory Zone

The CAA has approved a transponder mandatory zone (TMZ) around Stansted airport that came into effect on 24 September 2009. A TMZ requires light aircraft to use transponders when flying near Stansted in order for air traffic controllers to better direct flights to ensure the safety of both private and commercial aircraft.NATS leads SESAR analysis project

SESAR, the Single European Sky initiative which aims to enhance collaboration between European air navigation service providers for greater security and routeing efficiency, continues to move forward. As a result of NATS’ expertise in managing a high volume of air traffic in a confined space, we have been appointed to lead analysis of how Terminal Manoeuvring Area operations in Europe can be developed to meet future traffic growth. The aim of this and other SESAR projects is to shape a European system capable of handling a forecast doubling of traffic, while increasing safety and cutting emissions by ten per cent in the next 11 years, as well as cutting airline air traffic management costs in half.

NATS joins International Council on Systems Engineering’s Advisory Board

NATS is the world’s first ANSP to be invited to join the International Council on Systems Engineering’s (INCOSE) Advisory Board. INCOSE aims to share knowledge and promote international collaboration in the systems engineering industries. Other members include BAE Systems, IBM and Rolls Royce. Next steps for NATS include becoming an active part of the INCOSE South Coast Group; sharing our expertise at delivering changes to in-service assets with others and becoming a key member of the International Working Groups.

Millionth Flight

Air Traffic controllers in the UK handled their millionth flight of 2009 on Friday, 19 June 2009, just two weeks later than in 2008, when it was the earliest on record. Despite the reduction in overall traffic, air traffic operations remain busy.

New General Manager at Gibraltar Airport

Trevor Hammond has been appointed to Airport General Manager at Gibraltar Airport. Hammond has worked as a controller there for a number of years and is expected to preside over the construction of a new airport terminal and a tunnel beneath the runway for road traffic.

Trevor will take over from Paul Gale at the beginning of October. Gibraltar is the first international airport managed by NATS.

Air Traffic by the numbers

Summer has seen the rate of decline in air traffic slowing. As the economic downturn continues to impact the aviation industry, the typically busy summer months reflected a drop in traffic of 8.9% in July and 8.8% in August compared to the same months last year. 

NATS in the Community

In September, NATS hosted the launch of the 2009 PUSH Ahead Challenge, which invites teams of students to design and create innovative products and services for use in an airport. NATS chief executive, Paul Barron, will help judge the finished products in March 2010.

NATS also welcomed students from King Richards School in Portsmouth into its air traffic control simulator to give them insight into careers into air traffic control. NATS employees will tutor these students throughout the year in maths and science in anticipation of their GCSEs.NATS and the Environment

NATS has committed to cut the air traffic management related CO2 emitted by aircraft in UK controlled airspace by an average of 10% per flight by 2020. NATS is the first airspace navigation service provider in the world to commit to reducing emissions output. On the ground, we are aiming to maintain a carbon neutral estate by commuting less, recycling more, running our control centres, offices and operations in a more environmentally friendly way and using alternative energy sources such as solar power wherever possible.

About NATS

NATS provides air traffic control services at 15 of the UK’s biggest airports, and “en-route” air traffic services for all aircraft flying through UK airspace.

We employ over 5000 air traffic controllers, scientists, research analysts, engineers and support staff throughout the UK. We are dedicated to being a progressive company and having a positive impact on our communities.

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