Our skies are experiencing a remarkable transformation with the rapid emergence of new airspace users like uncrewed, electric, and high-altitude aircraft.  Amidst this dynamic landscape, NATS has been pioneering the use of analytics technologies to revolutionise the way we design safe, efficient, and sustainable airspace networks.

As a result of our airspace design innovations and our global reputation, NATS was recently invited to chair the 2023 AirTOp conference. Chairing this international event in New York was a huge privilege, and an opportunity to showcase how NATS has led the use of this technology to enhance airspace design.

What is AirTOp?

AirTOp is an essential, sophisticated software that allows NATS’ Analytics team to accurately model the potential flow of aircraft through UK airspace.  By factoring in varying aspects such as routes, new aircraft types, and overall traffic volumes, and referencing thousands of navigation points, airspace sectors, and aircraft flight plans, AirTOp generates a comprehensive 4D profile of each flight.

The software also allows flights to interact with each other, akin to real-world operations. Stack holding, arrival sequencing, and departure spacing are all simulated, allowing for a deeper understanding of the impact that congested airspace can have on fuel-burn and CO2 emissions. Armed with this knowledge, we can design airspace fit for future traffic while aligning with our objective to achieve carbon negativity by 2040.

Supporting the future of airspace
Modernising the UK’s airspace is a huge task with many complex factors. To ensure that proposed changes maximise the benefits to airspace users, the Analytics team undertakes detailed simulations, assessing the impact on airspace capacity and safety while considering environmental factors. Referred to as “fast time” simulations, this process allows many thousands of flights in varying scenarios to be processed within a few hours. For our most recent airspace deployment over the West of England, fast-time models were used to ensure the final deployment was the optimal design for this region.

The Conference

The AirTOp Conference brings together a diverse community of users and developers, and serves as a hub for sharing cutting-edge ideas, innovations, and success stories that demonstrate the power of AirTOp in various operations across the globe.

During the conference we had the opportunity to demonstrate the intricacies of the incredibly busy UK airspace, how we handle diverse traffic, and discuss how new airspace users could be effectively integrated into this complex environment.

It was a fantastic opportunity to showcase how this technology supports such vital changes to our critical national infrastructure, and to learn from others who are stretching the boundaries of the software to design the future global network for aviation.

As leaders in this field, NATS continues to push the boundaries of airspace management using advanced analytics and simulation software like AirTOp.  NATS’ expertise, combined with advanced tools and software, can propel airspace design and management into a new generation of aviation.


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Peter Pennie

A very interesting article. May I say as a very experienced retired air traffic controller that the modelling should always be subject to atc operational approval and with my experience in developing new operational procedures with major change things take time and verification especially safety approval

Thank you Peter and we completely agree. All of our fast-time simulation modelling is done alongside experienced air traffic controllers within our airspace design team. The modelling can help quickly refine and enhance designs, ahead of the optimal design ultimately going forward through our full safety and regulatory approval processes.


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