Engineering the future

Engineers can imagine too! As we begin to deploy more SESAR air traffic management technologies and concepts, we are also imagining how we could further improve our services – now and in the future.

Perhaps some of the tools, processes and techniques from other industries could be part of the optimal solution.

Back in 2014 my colleague Jim shared his glimpse of the future for air traffic controllers and introduced us to ‘Susie’ and her very latest 3D workstation.

Behind the scenes at NATS we have a world leading team of architects, engineers and scientists who are imagining, designing and building the very latest air traffic management technology to bring ideas like Jim’s into service.

Safety, assurance and resilience are at the heart of everything we do. Our current generation of services feature primary and secondary systems with automatic switchover in the event of a failure.

Sometimes even this isn’t enough and we have to switch to fall-back systems that whilst they are safe, do not currently offer the full capacity that our customers need.

An event like a server failure is transparent to our controllers.

An event like a server failure is transparent to our controllers.

Fall-back systems are a bit like run-flat tyres that can allow a car to drive for up to 50 miles at speeds up to 50 mph – enough to get you home or to a garage, but not quite as good as before the puncture.

Our challenge is to develop a cost-effective solution to deliver our full capacity through any conceivable technical failure. The ‘Engineering the Future’ video has been created to explore some of the concepts and technology available in the market place with our employees and technology partners.

The service operation centre is linked to NATS people in the field and specialist support teams across the country. We see how a server failure is handled automatically by the datacentre and David, the Service Manager, has all of the data he needs, literally at his fingertips.

Service resilience is deeper than just the front line response. We also need to consider the training, design and testing processes that mean that a server failure does not cause a service failure.

The failure characteristics of the new system are thoroughly tested long before future controllers like Susie use it operationally.

The failure characteristics of the new system are thoroughly tested long before future controllers like Susie use it operationally.

There are a huge variety of technology and process solutions in the market – and an infinite set of possibilities. Our job is to blend the possibilities in just the right way to give the best possible customer experience.

We’ve found that creating and sharing this video with our colleagues and suppliers has proved a valuable catalyst for pushing on conversations, critical thinking and creative solutions. I hope you enjoy it.

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