This morning I took part in a panel discussion at the World ATM Congress discussing performance delivery and meeting airline (i.e. our customers’) expectations.

I believe we deliver an excellent service – we handle some of the most complex airspace very effectively, with minimal delays compared to much of Europe. However meeting, and sometimes managing, customer expectations will always be challenging. It’s a discussion that doesn’t take place often enough in the ATM industry where I’m not sure most of the players even think of airspace users as customers.

In most industries if you ignore your customers you lose business. In a one-State, one-ANSP set-up, where service provision is effectively a monopoly, we still get the business whether or not we listen to our customers – and that’s where the problem starts.

We’ve been looking at ways we can involve our customers more in what we do, to make sure we factor their views and expectations in to our plans. For example, we have two airline representatives on the UK-Ireland FAB Management Board. Their input is invaluable and makes sure our plans take customer views into account.

Inside the presentation hall at World ATM Congress

Inside the presentation hall at World ATM Congress

Last year we consulted our customers on a draft business plan for the period RP2 covers – setting out different options and scenarios related to spend and performance delivery. The feedback we received on this led us to develop a revised plan that, while perhaps not meeting every request or desire, better reflected what our customers want.

We’ve also just reached agreement with a number of customers to work with us in the early stages of airspace change programmes. By bringing airlines directly into the technical design team, future airspace designs will be more closely aligned with customer requirements.

Importantly, this isn’t just a one-way process. By involving our customers in these business decisions, they can see the challenges we face and better understand the business decisions we have to make.

The aim is to deliver an improved performance that benefits both us and our customers. It also gets us closer to our customers and focuses our attention on their needs as well as on regulatory compliance.

This shouldn’t be revolutionary but in an industry where the very notion of customers is pretty new it’s still alarmingly rare.

NATS has come a long way in the last ten years. Our safety and service record speaks for itself and we’ve achieved that at the same time as reducing our costs by a third.

We do listen to our customers and we do like to say yes. Perhaps if more air traffic service providers put customers at the heart of what they do we could all start to shift our focus from complying with regulation to meeting customer expectations.


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