NATS can trace its sustainability programme back to 2008. We’re proud that we were among the first in our industry to recognise the climate challenge and start to put in place measures to address the impact we have.
Continuing to enhance and develop that sustainable operations programme is also a challenge. High profile campaigns can create a buzz, but there’s no substitute to getting back to basics with core environmental awareness and training.
Over the years we’ve had mixed results engaging trainee ATCOs during their time in the NATS College. The ATCO licence currently has quite limited requirements to address the environmental impacts of aviation, and trainees joining the College had hugely differing levels of personal environmental awareness. We found that the knowledge gap didn’t close over time, so it was hard to tailor environmental communications and requests to ATCOs when they reached their Unit.
We had to review our approach if we were going to make environmental awareness part of the everyday controlling experience. Concerns about climate change, noise and other environmental impacts meant we had to do this more strategically.
Two years ago we began piloting a new environmental curriculum for trainee ATCOs, going well beyond the requirements of the licence. This was an opportunity to better connect aviation’s environmental impacts and what individual controllers can do to minimise them. We wanted to help trainee ATCOs understand why these issues are important to NATS and the wider industry effort, and prepare them for the types of actions they would be expected to support once they finished their training. For example, giving more direct routes, continuous climbs and descents and minimising holding all help reduce an aircraft’s environmental impact.
At the end of the pilot, we moved the curriculum across to our online learning platform, with introductory and advanced modules. We also repackaged the introductory module in a version available for other employees who were interested in understanding NATS’ role in managing airspace environmental performance (and helping us engage with non-operational employees).
What we didn’t expect was the interest from existing ATCOs in accessing the advanced module. As a result, everyone who manages air traffic will now complete this training every two years. As well as providing relevant, timely and engaging environmental material, it will also ensure an improved base level of environmental knowledge among our controller community. All our ATCOs completed this environmental training by the end of April, taking advantage of low traffic levels.
Then we had another unexpected outcome. Military controllers working for the RAF and Navy sit alongside civilian ATCOs at our Swanwick control centre and we work closely to manage and share airspace, on our respective net zero emissions goals and on local environmental improvement projects. The RAF commander saw the internal announcement about the ATCO training and asked if they could get involved, and we’ve been delighted to include our RAF and Navy colleagues in the rollout of the new environmental curriculum.
Last year we also revised our wider employee environmental training, which links to our ISO14001 certified environmental management system and is increasingly a requirement for commercial contracts. This involved creating a stand-alone resource for new joiners and existing employees, who will all review it annually, complementing other important regular training.
We hope that these training and awareness resources give our teams access to the best possible information to help them to help us and our customers reduce the environmental impact of aviation.
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