A SPACE to innovate

One commodity more sought after than any other in the world of Air Traffic Management is space – space to think, space to plan, space to manoeuvre aircraft. Ask any air traffic controller and they’ll tell you that you can never have too much of it!

But as the safe and efficient management of our skies becomes increasingly complex, space is becoming a scarcer, more valuable commodity. We need more of it, which is why NATS has created SPACE.

Inside one of our SPACE rooms

Inside one of our SPACE rooms

So what is SPACE? Put simply, it’s our innovation capability, designed to solve the difficult problems of today and enable us to see further into the future, to drive the industry forward and provide solutions for tomorrow’s needs.

How then do we go about doing this? Well, SPACE is essentially made up of three key components: our facilities, our people and our processes.

We have a number of state of the art facilities designed to help us fulfil our innovation capability. They provide an environment conducive to innovative thinking and problem solving as well as having the technology required to back up ideas.

Our diverse team of people includes skilled human factors experts, designers, software developers and system engineers providing us with the capability to get to the root cause of our customers’ challenges, visualise solutions and create prototypes enabling us to bring emerging concepts to life.

The value of doing this is immeasurable. Being able to draw customers, suppliers and staff into an immersive picture you’ve painted makes communicating with them so much more effective than simply trying to explain abstract ideas or relying on written documents.

Part of the value of SPACE is discovering when a concept will not work: too often companies find out after the fact and to great expense. The ability to fast-prototype means when we fail, we fail faster (and therefore cheaper!) This enables us to be bolder and to push back boundaries to deliver genuinely industry changing concepts.

For example, the idea of a triangular merge to reduce holding seemed a good idea in theory but in practise, using SPACE facilities, we quickly saw that it would not work; historically it would have taken many man hours to run a large scale simulation to get to this place.

The set up in SPACE allows us to rapidly test new operational ideas

The set up in SPACE allows us to rapidly test new operational ideas

We’ve had successes too! A good example is the creation of a tool to help our airline customers improve their environmental performance. It is built on our flight efficiency metric, known as 3Di, which effectively scores an aircraft’s efficiency for a given flight.

The tool we have created identifies and visualises the aircraft’s trajectory, highlighting sub-optimal phases of flight, thus enabling us to make recommendations/decisions to bring improvements, enabling a reduction in CO2 and fuel burn.

Below are two videos of tools we’ve used in SPACE to rapidly visualise airspace and test concepts. The first shows an adapted gaming engine created by ALTRAN, where an individual uses gesture control in front of a large screen to move around airspace in real time.   The second shows a tool that was built on the ALTRAN engine to allow a user to walk around airspace and simulate safety related incidents. Both came from ideas sessions and were rapidly created and deployed for use as part of the SPACE capability.

In designing solutions, we put the user at the centre to ensure we are capturing the true essence of the problem we are trying to solve, or the opportunity we are trying to exploit.

But what we don’t do is ask them to come up with the solution themselves, rather we take a collaborative approach bringing together the users with the experts in solution design to ensure what we come up with is fit for purpose and the best it can possibly be.

Through this collaborative approach, bringing people together from diverse backgrounds, with different perspectives, we raise the bar of creativity.


We’re really happy that we’ve created a dedicated SPACE to innovate at NATS. Whilst a relatively new facility, it’s already engaging the business, tapping into creativity and delivering tangible benefits to the operation.


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