Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) are embedded within the skills of people at NATS and keep our operation ticking.

As an Industrial Placement student, I volunteered with a team who recently represented NATS at the Big Bang event at the Ageas Bowl in Hampshire to share my experiences of STEM subjects with children and young adults aged 9 to 19. I explained how studying these subjects could one day open up career opportunities for them in aviation and maybe even Air Traffic Management (ATM).

At our exhibition stand we showed the students some key ATM concepts through fun activities, such as the “separation game”, which focusses on how aircraft are safely separated in the sky. Another game was the “continuous descent hoops” where visitors create a paper aeroplane and try to fly it through a series of ever decreasing hoops to illustrate how Continuous Descent Operations (CDO) work. CDOs fly aircraft smoothly into landing, helping to reduce noise, fuel burn and emissions.

The event was well attended and people seemed eager to learn about what NATS does and how it all works behind the scenes. We were able to offer useful advice as we’ve been through a similar process in deciding upon further education.

If you’re thinking about career opportunities in one of these STEM subject areas, here are our top reasons for their importance in Air Traffic Management (ATM).

Big Bang 2STEM subjects fall across various areas in maintaining the operational aspects of ATM.

Lots of people at NATS use the skills learned in STEM subjects every day. From engineers maintaining radars or designing and developing new software and technology, to our Flow Management team calculating and making decisions on air traffic flow throughout the day. The skills and knowledge from STEM subjects are absolutely vital.

Not only that, they flow over into other areas of our workforce.

Maths, for example, is used for analysing data, accountancy skills and liaising with suppliers in our Supply Chain department. Meanwhile, science not only covers physics-related work, but ‘people’ sciences too. We have a Human Factors department with the job of ensuring our employees, across the business, have the tools and resources they need to carry out their jobs efficiently and safely. For instance, thanks to them we know the optimum temperature for the operational rooms to minimise fatigue is 23°C.

STEM subjects allow for advanced thinking and innovative technology to be created.

At NATS we’re committed to the Single European Sky ATM Research programme (SESAR) researching, developing, testing and safely integrating technology that will enable cross collaboration with European Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) and make airspace travel more affordable and efficient, without compromising safety. This technology transformation will strengthen our existing ways of working and allow us to adapt for the forecast growth of traffic. None of this would be possible without people with backgrounds in STEM subjects.

These subjects allow for research and testing to be conducted that provide concrete solutions.

Unlike other subjects studied, which can be largely opinion-based, STEM subjects allow for creativity in design but that have a fit-for-purpose solution. These are difficult subjects to learn, but they make you problem-solve in a logical way to make sense of complicated platforms and networks. Air Traffic Management relies upon decisions to be made and solutions developed, based upon factual knowledge.

A new service recently introduced at London Heathrow and already providing real benefits is Time Based Separation (TBS). It was made possible by employees using their skills in calculating and designing a tool to allow aircraft arriving at Heathrow to be separated by time, rather than distance, and based on the prevailing wind conditions. Prior to TBS, headwinds were one of the single highest causes of delay to arrivals. The tool has cut this by over 50%, allowing for a better service for passengers and a smoother and more efficient operation for everyone.

If you missed us at the Solent EBP event at the Ageas Bowl in Hampshire, we’ll also be exhibiting at the South of England Show Ground in Crawley on the 29th June.

To find out more about NATS Early Career opportunities please visit our website:


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Donald Bagwell

STEM training is the corner stone of all engineering; so it is indeed important for the next generation to be successful in ATM. The mission than becomes one where “failure is not an option”: Students that enter the front door of any secondary facility and enroll in the aviation programs must be prepared for a journey that will span the remainder of their lives. That journey contains 3 key factors that will forever mold and shape whom they are.
1. We must recruit people of the brightest minds and talents empowering them to be creative and Innovative.
2. All the while providing them with the resources and guidance encouraging them to always dream big, and make their own visions a reality.
3. As they journey through this important phase of life; it is with the understand that the reward is not success; but the final step; Success to Significance



Steve Balfour

That’s why when I, and my colleagues joined NATS as potential ATCOs, the MINIMUM requirement was 5 ‘O’ levels and 2 ‘A’ Levels. Of the latter, one had to be in mathematics, geography, or a science subject. The pass-rate on our course was around 90-95%.


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