We really hope you’ve enjoyed watching ‘Skies Above Britain’ – the five part series shown on BBC2 across August and September.

The TV series sought to give viewers an insight to how the skies above them are used in different ways, by different people for many different purposes. It also gave an insight to the world of air traffic control and the role we play at NATS in guiding aircraft safely and efficiently to and from their destinations.

If you’re not already an ‘#AvGeek’, we hope the series may have raised your interest in aviation, and  so with the series coming to a close, we wanted to point you to few ways that you can continue to watch the skies above Britain.

1. Watch it all again on iPlayer

Don’t forget that if you missed any of the episodes – which is understandable with ‘Bake off’ on at the same time (!) – you can ‘catch up’ via iPlayer here. If the episodes disappear before you get to them, you can always consider buying the series at the BBC Store here.

2. Watch the skies above Britain with Airspace+

Airspace+ is like ‘Catch up TV for the skies’. It’s a system we have to create visualisations of air traffic. It can do this for anywhere in the world, and depending on settings, produce videos that update every hour to show the previous 24 hours of air traffic in a region.

Airspace+ rapidly processes thousands of lines of aircraft position data to create the visualisations. This includes Radar and ADS-B provided by FlightAware the global flight data company. At NATS we use Airspace+ primarily as an awareness and education tool helping us to explain issues related to Air Traffic Management.  The visualisation below shows the previous 24 hours of air traffic over the UK.

We’ve made a selection of Airspace+ visualisations to share and they show a variety of airspace regions – check them out on our Airspace+ page.  We really hope you enjoy replaying and watching the skies above Britain through Airspace+.

3. Explore the skies in our forthcoming Airspace Explorer App

Airspace Explorer is a flight tracking and airspace education app that works on Apple iPads. It has been developed by NATS in partnership with FlightAware and AirTeamImages (an aircraft photo provider). We’re currently finishing a beta version and are hoping to release it by the end of the year.  Costs permitting, we would also like to release it for free.  If you’d like to be notified when the app is available, just provide us your email here.

The app is actually a ‘lite’ version of a more comprehensive app used internally at NATS for situational awareness and operational information. The internal facing app is called ‘Operational Insight’ and it includes richer operational information and functionality – features that aren’t required or relevant in a public facing app.

However, we thought that a number of features in the app would be of interest to the general public – to be able to see flights – but also to understand how we structure and manage the airspace above our heads.

Operational Insight App

A screenshot from our Operational Insight App

Our app is similar to other flight tracking apps available on the App Store, but it does have some additional interesting features.

Airspace. Firstly, in addition to providing information on flights and airports, our App provides information on the airspace itself.  We show the Flight Information Regions (FIRs) that comprise the airspace around the world and the controlled airspace structures that make up the FIRs in the UK. You can play with the app and learn about the difference between controlled and uncontrolled airspace and the different types of airspace structures that exist.  You can also see the sectors that we use in the UK to divide up the airspace and allocate air traffic controllers to expertly manage it.

Airspace Explorer showing the UK Airways structure

Airspace Explorer showing the UK Airways structure

Radar data. Secondly, unlike other flight tracking apps, ours includes UK radar data for showing aircraft positions. We don’t display all of our radar data as a number of aircraft, such as most military and police aircraft are removed, which is a Government requirement. However, even with certain aircraft removed, the, inclusion of radar data helps to increase aircraft coverage and the radar often picks up and displays smaller aircraft that other apps don’t track.

A Spitfire spotted on the app tracked by UK Radar data

A Spitfire spotted on the app tracked by UK Radar data

3D view.  Thirdly, we provide a 3D view of the airspace. The 3D views help to provide a sense of the relative altitudes of aircraft and the shapes and sizes of the controlled airspace areas in the UK.  You can pan, zoom and move around the airspace in 3D and view flight paths in and out of airports to gain a sense of the approach and departure routes the aircraft fly.

Explore the airspace in 3D and see arrivals and departures for airports

Explore the airspace in 3D and see arrivals and departures for airports

We’ve put a quick video together to show you the app in action.  If you are interested – please send us your email here and we’ll let you know when the app is ready to play with!

We really hope you enjoyed watching ‘Skies Above Britain’ on BBC2 and that the ways described above help you to continue to do so – if in a slightly different way!


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Marc McKay

The app looks amazing. Any plans for a web based version? Or Android? I don’t do “Apple” 😉

Thanks Marc!

At the moment the app is only available on Apple iPad. Primarily that’s because it’s a modified version of a pre-existing internal app which runs on iPads. Internally we standardised on iPads as a single platform to make it easier to support etc.

However, if the app proves popular, we would certainly explore porting to Android and Web. Internally we also have web portals that track flights etc. but we chose to modify the internal app first as it has the 3D element in – which we thought might be interesting for folks to play with. Our web versions don’t currently have that facility.




Will you be able to listen to air traffic control commentary on the app?



Tina Hammond

Loved the series. Please do a mini series on ATC training as BA did with cabin crew a few years ago 🙂



Simon Dunn

What version of iOS will the app require to run? Thanks.

@Carl – Great idea – but I’m afraid ATC radio transmissions aren’t included in the app. Obviously there would be a number of operational and legal issues to consider before introducing anything in real time. However, pre-recorded example commentary, around our airports and other operational areas is a possibility – perhaps something for a future release. Thank you for the suggestion – we’ll give that some careful consideration!

@Tina – Glad you enjoyed it. We are running a mini feature on instagram providing a day in the life of ATC students at the moment – check out more about that here: https://nats.aero/blog/2016/09/dayinthelife-an-insight-into-our-trainee-controllers/

@Simon It’s 9.3 onwards – a basic version of the app will run on an iPad 2 but it performs much better on more recent iPad models.




Yep mark Mck is right can we have android version of this app please so I can simply go to play store and download the app




Nice app, will it just cover the UK or will it be worldwide?


The app will show flight positions around the world. Global position data will be provided by our partner FlightAware and is a mix of radar, ADS-B and MLAT. Over the UK we are aiming to provide our NATS Radar data together with ADS-B and MLAT provided by FlightAware.

As for the Airspace, we will show the FIRs over the globe but only show airspace structures in the UK – i.e. Controlled and Uncontrolled airspace areas, their types (CTA, CTZ, Airways etc.), Routes and Sectors. This information will come directly from our Aeronautical Information Services team.

@Marek – Sorry just iPad initially, then iPhone. Then depending on success we will consider porting to Android and/or web.




Looks great. Ditto desktop and Windoze app. tSaB was brilliant ?


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