NATS maintain a database of encounters between aircraft and wake vortices – invisible spirals of turbulence created by aircraft as they fly. This database captures all reported encounters within NATS airspace and at airports. It supplements this with radar, meteorological information and, for certain encounters, the aircraft flight parameters contained within the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) information.
The behaviours of wake vortices can impact the safe separation between aircraft. Analysing and further developing our understanding of their behaviour can help us to understand the effect of a new concept on wake risk and identify potential new ways to maximise capacity and improve resilience of operations.
The data was used extensively in the safety case for the introduction of Time Based Separation at Heathrow, a new concept that separates aircraft by time instead of distance. The data is also used in safety monitoring post-implementation of TBS. Data is currently being used to explore further means of optimising safe aircraft separation.
The introduction of TBS has seen us working closely with airlines to obtain their pilot reports and FDR data for Heathrow approach.
Project Maturity: Ongoing wake analysis is a safety monitoring task and is used as a data source to inform concepts, rather than being a concept for deployment itself.