It’s no secret that global demand for air travel is on the increase, nor that this seemingly inexorable trend is set to continue indefinitely… until, that is, no more space can be found in our already-crowded skies.
With airports around the UK anticipating their busiest-ever summer this year, we are determined to keep our sights firmly set on airspace safety, so much so that controllers at NATS Prestwick have recently completed the roll-out of the latest development in air traffic management technology – a first in the UK.
iTEC, which stands for ‘interoperability Through European Collaboration’, will eventually allow air traffic controllers to share data across national borders and use it to plot detailed trajectories for aircraft before they reach UK airspace, increasing safety and capacity yet reducing fuel burn and emissions.
By pulling together a range of tools that both reduce air traffic controllers’ workload and improve safety by automatically detecting potential aircraft conflicts ahead of time, we believe the iTEC control system has the potential to increase airspace capacity by as much as 40 per cent, without compromising safety.
This means that potential congestion spots can be highlighted in good time and, instead of asking pilots to make potentially lengthy detours as they approach a busy sector, from a good distance away all aircraft in the airspace can be set on their optimum courses to ensure they pass others at safe distances on their way to where they need to go.
It’s all about giving our controllers sight of the most comprehensive picture possible to help them do their job. By being able to predict individual flight paths with certainty, iTEC automatically helps support conflict-free flight plans, leaving our expert air traffic controllers free to monitor the overall flight plan and concentrate on maintaining safe separation of all the aircraft in their airspace.
The new system will also help reduce aircraft emissions and overall fuel consumption by paving the way for the introduction of Free Route Airspace (FRA). FRA is designed to provide greater flexibility for aircraft flying above 25,500 feet and allows pilots to select the best option available to them according to their preferred route and the prevailing weather conditions.
Although Prestwick is the first of our two air traffic control centres to adopt this new system, we’re on course to install iTEC at Swanwick within the next five years and so create a single technology platform for the entirety of NATS’ UK En Route air traffic management operations.
We believe iTEC is the key to safer skies in the future, both for passengers and for freight – here at NATS it will help improve our service offering and increase the flexibility, efficiency, and resilience of our business and therefore also the UK national airspace infrastructure.
These are indeed exciting times for air traffic management and as increasingly sophisticated technology empowers us to design safe new airspace solutions, robust enough to cope with ever-increasing demand, we will be able to deliver tangible benefits to our customers and, through them, to our customers’ customers.
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