Any pilot will know what life is like in the air flying an aircraft, but not many will have experienced being in air traffic control.

Visiting pilots to the NATS simulator at a recent CAA/Department for Transport event in Duxford were encouraged to see what the world looks like through the eyes of a controller, especially when dealing with infringing traffic.

Sat at the simulator, pilots eagerly watched the busy radar. They had to make quick-fire decisions to avoid the infringing aircraft as they entered the controlled zones, as well as continuing to allow commercial traffic to land and take off.

For some of the general aviation (GA) pilots, it was a chance to understand the speed at which decisions have to be made to handle and communicate with the infringing traffic, alongside directing the commercial traffic to avoid these aircraft and continue on to their destinations.

It was interesting to watch the pilots; some dealt with the situation remarkably well, where as for others the realisation of the challenges faced by controllers was quite an eye opener.


Scores of pilots participated in our simulator exercise and spoke to us at our stand at the event, which is where the Government and CAA launched the GA strategy – the latest stage of a programme to fulfil the Government’s aim of making the UK the best country in the world for GA and boosting jobs and growth in the sector.

The event also saw a presentation by the Future Airspace Strategy VFR Implementation Group (FASVIG) on the programme of work they have developed in support of the UK Future Airspace Strategy.

Of particular interest was the drive by FASVIG to increase the use of electronic tools onboard GA aircraft, such as the use of transponders and ADS-B, to make GA aircraft more aware of one another. This would support the protection of aircraft in controlled airspace in the event of an infringement and the “sense and avoid” capability on the aircraft.

The event was a great opportunity for us at NATS to raise awareness about infringement prevention and demonstrate some tools that aim to reduce this while also promoting general airspace safety as part of the Airspace and Safety Initiative – a joint NATS, CAA and MOD activity to promote airspace safety.

We showed GA pilots the AWARE tool, which is a moving map display that uses GPS to provide warning of proximity to controlled airspace and an alert if the aircraft enters controlled airspace. It is available as a standalone device or as an App for the iPad. It will soon be available in an android version. NATS was instrumental in the development of AWARE with Airbox Ltd, and it was awarded the NATS Compliance Mark in recognition of the safety benefit it provides to GA pilots.

We also showed SkyDemon Light, which is a free-to-use, web based pre-flight planning tool. It provides GA pilots with a way of graphically planning their VFR flights on a map, subsequently displaying airspace that will be passed through and the NOTAMs that are in force at the time of the planned flight. Sky Demon developed the free use version of their software as part of a NATS initiative to provide GA pilots with tools to help prevent infringements of controlled airspace.

These tools are just a few ways we are working to improve safety and boost communications with GA. After all, we all want the same thing – a safe airspace for everyone to enjoy.

GA pilots will have another opportunity to try their hand on the NATS simulator at AeroExpo UK 2015, Sywell Aerodrome from 29-31 May.

[Header image via the CAA]


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Steve Hutt

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