Collaboration has always been a key part of the way we work at NATS and even during these socially distanced times, we have continued to work closely, even if remotely, with our partners.

This has been demonstrated most recently by our work with LVNL, the Dutch air traffic navigation services provider, running Intelligent Approach simulations while maintaining social distancing and engaging virtually across national borders.

Earlier this year, we signed a contract with LVNL to deliver Intelligent Approach (IA) to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Based on a concept that originated as a part of the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) programme, the system was jointly developed by NATS and Leidos with help from Think Research and is scheduled to go live at Schiphol in 2021.

We’ve worked very closely with Leidos and THINK Research to develop the Intelligent Approach tools and procedures and it’s this same collaborative team that’s now involved in putting it into service at airports such as Schiphol. Each of us brings something different – technology, air traffic control experience and analytical skills, which together means that we can offer a complete solution for airports who want to improve their resilience.

Before IA goes into operation at Schiphol, we need to run simulations to ensure that the tools are ‘tuned’ for the specific airspace, in this case, Amsterdam. But how do we do that with social distancing now firmly in place for the foreseeable future?

Nobody knows the airport, airspace and procedures better than the customer’s own controllers. We previously had NAV CANADA controllers in the NATS simulators here in the UK testing the IA system, which was a great way to validate the tool for Toronto’s airspace and procedures (where IA will also go live in 2021).

Unfortunately, and because of Covid-19 restrictions, this hasn’t been possible for Amsterdam, but we have found workarounds and innovative ways to enable the LVNL controllers to witness and take part in the ATC simulations that are so vital.

The first of four simulator sessions was successfully and safely conducted at our base in Whiteley at the beginning of July. Using the video and call conferencing technology we have all become accustomed to over the past few months, our counterparts at LVNL were able to join the sims virtually and participate and engage to help ensure a successful outcome.  Everyone agreed that the interaction was better than expected and that the arrangement worked well.

And so it is still on track to go ahead for 2021, without delay. It’ll be exciting to see the benefits that Schiphol will gain once IA is operational – offering resilience to headwinds and additional runway capacity which translates into better environmental performance and scope for schedule growth. We also look forward to working with more airports around the world to deliver similar advances. Despite the pandemic, innovations such as IA can continue to be successfully implemented in airports and help strengthen their resilience when demand gets back to normal levels.

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