It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since the official opening of our Prestwick Centre, but when I think of all that we’ve achieved since 2010, I realise how quickly the time has gone and how busy it’s been.
Before the new centre was built, Manchester Control was located in the Manchester Tower and the operations room for Scottish and Oceanic control as well as all the supporting functions were located in Atlantic House, which still sits alongside Prestwick Centre. In 2009, we completed all the work to get the new building ready and moved the operation across in four phases.
Our Oceanic operation moved in October 2009 followed by the Military in November. The Scottish Domestic operation moved over in December and finally, the team from Manchester moved in January 2010.
Since then, we have delivered some big changes….
10 years of change in our domestic airspace
In the domestic airspace, we introduced Electronic Flight Data, which was our first step in the Single European Sky ATM Research programme (SESAR). This saw us remove paper strips in 2012, which had been with the industry since the outset.
Following this, Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) saw the introduction of datalink capability in 2013. Another big step forward for aviation, this brought a reduction to the often-congested voice communications frequencies by utilising a system which in many ways is like the exchange of text messages between pilots and controllers.
The next major change to come in was in 2016 with the introduction of iTEC (interoperability Through European Collaboration), a new system to manage the high-level Scottish airspace and support future air traffic growth. iTEC provides a common flight data processing system for use in countries across the continent and is a major step towards the creation of a single, efficiently structured European airspace.
We have also delivered some significant airspace changes, including the redesign of the Antrim/Isle of Man airspace in 2017, an enabler for Dublin Airport’s second runway.
10 years of change across the North Atlantic
Our Oceanic/Shanwick operation controls over half a million flights a year, and the rate – and scale – of change has been momentous over the past decade.
In 2014, we transitioned the Shanwick operation onto the Gander Automated Air Traffic System (GAATS+) platform to assist controllers as they direct aircraft across the North Atlantic – the busiest oceanic airspace in the world. For the first time, controllers in Prestwick Centre could exchange messages back and forth with their counterparts at Nav Canada’s Control Centre in Gander, allowing improved coordination, safety and efficiency between the centres. The introduction of GAATS, and the capabilities it gave us, allowed for the later introduction of reduced separation between aircraft over the North Atlantic.
The latest innovation, has been the use of space-based ADS-B surveillance which was introduced last year and has been widely recognised as delivering the most significant change to air traffic control in the past 50 years. The technology means we can now track aircraft positions over the North Atlantic in real-time, radically optimising flight safety and efficiency. Having this real time picture has also enabled us to trial reduced separation distances between aircraft from 40 nautical miles (nm) to as little as 14nm. As well helping to accommodate future air traffic growth, this has given us more flexibility in how we manage the airspace enabling more aircraft to fly at levels which are more efficient, saving fuel and lessening the impact on the environment
Over the coming years at Prestwick Centre, we’re expecting to see even more change to both our en route and lower level services, with the introduction of new technology, as well as to the airspace design in our Manchester and Scottish Terminal Manoeuvring Areas (TMAs) – the dense areas around the main airports.
Everyone at the centre should be proud of the can-do attitude, which helped build the centre in the first place and then deliver change on such a large scale. Each individual at NATS Prestwick has contributed in some way and each and every one of them should be proud of what we’ve achieved together.
Take a look at our timeline which shows some of the key moments from the history of our Prestwick Centre here.
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