With less than a year to go to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and planning well under way, we’ve been reflecting on the work we were doing  this time last year at the London 2012 Olympics.

Next year in Glasgow, competitors, officials, and sports fans descend on the city for 11 days of competition across 17 sports, with 271 medals up for grabs. It’s the third largest sporting event in the world, after the Olympics and the World Cup.

For the past six months, NATS has been embedded with the Scottish Government, Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, and other key aviation stakeholders to ensure that the service we provide during the games is aligned with the forecast demand and expectations.


Some of that work is building on the lessons we learned managing the air traffic to London 2012 last summer in some of the most complex and congested airspace in the world.

That included Heathrow, the world’s busiest 2-runway airport, and Gatwick, the world’s busiest single runway airport, as well as Stansted, Luton, London City and 50 smaller, but busy, airports on the outskirts, including Farnborough, Oxford and Southend.

With the world’s attention focused on London, the UK government wanted assurance that rigorous security arrangements were in place for UK airspace.

NATS also had to be prepared for potentially disruptive summer weather, such as thunderstorms. It was going to be a demanding and high profile time.


At the top of our priority list was maintaining a safe, efficient, and uninterrupted business-as-usual service for our airline customers.

We looked at potential pinch points created by the influx of extra traffic and the demand for routes into and out of some of the tertiary airports on London’s periphery – since Heathrow and Gatwick operate at or near full capacity as a matter of course.

We had to accommodate the Government’s security-based airspace restrictions around London, whose impact would be felt particularly by the region’s popular and vocal general and business aviation community, so it had to be handled with sensitivity.

It was clear that the existing airspace would not be flexible enough to respond to any disruption during the Olympics. The solution had to be new, temporary, controlled airspace.


Working with the Department for Transport, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) – the UK regulatory authority – and the general and business aviation community, NATS created three areas of temporary controlled airspace, and designed new routes in and out of the Olympics designated airports.

Our careful evaluation and comprehensive understanding of the task at hand meant we maintained – and enhanced – the high level of safety and service our customers expect, as well as accommodating the additional Olympics traffic.

This was a unique challenge, and one that NATS rose to with characteristic calmness and professionalism. As testimony to the way we managed the project, we have already been asked to share our experience with the organisers of the Rio Olympics in 2016


London 2012 – How did we do?

  • Safety: No risk bearing losses of separation attributed to the Olympics and no systems issues. There were just 11 infringements of NATS temporary controlled airspace by General Aviation aircraft.
  • Service: Just 593 minutes of delay attributable to NATS throughout the whole Olympics period, compared with 13,300 over the same month in 2011 – a 95% reduction. Including the Paralympics period, delay stood at just 1,900 minutes.
  • Value: In one of the most challenging periods ever for UK air traffic, NATS generated just 0.1% of total European delay attributable to ATC, despite handling nearly a quarter of Europe’s traffic.

There are 71 countries involved in next year’s Commonwealth Games.  NATS is now applying our customary professionalism and expertise to the challenge of successfully managing the expected increase in traffic to Glasgow as smoothly as we managed the Olympics.

For more information on how we managed air traffic during London 2012 you can download our Olympics case study [pdf].


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Peter Murphy

Huge thanks for all your hard work to everyone at NATS from all of us in the Commonwealth Games family.

Peter Murphy, Director of Communications, Commonwealth Games Federation



Common Wealth Games Blog

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