The NATS ATC team has been working closely with London Gatwick to deliver a big milestone in the airport’s infrastructure upgrades, with the activation of the new Echo Romeo Rapid Exit Taxiway (RET).

This project followed extensive feedback from airlines and careful analysis of the existing RETs for arriving aircraft on Runway 26L—the airport’s main runway. Construction started in 2023 and it officially opened for operations last month, just in time for the busy summer season which kicks in this weekend.

Studies revealed that the previous Echo RET was too close to the touchdown zone, making it hard for aircraft to decelerate comfortably for a timely exit. Conversely, the Foxtrot Romeo RET was too distant, resulting in aircraft decelerating prematurely and missing the optimal speed for reaching it.

Echo Romeo RET has been strategically located to cater to the needs of London Gatwick’s predominant aircraft types, notably those operated by airlines such as EasyJet, Wizz Air, British Airways, and TUI. These carriers primarily utilise what are called Code C aircraft, including the Airbus A320 family and Boeing B737.

Meticulous planning and design led to the final positioning. Designed with exit speeds of around 55 knots (approximately 65 mph), hitting the RETs at these speeds aims to reduce arrival runway occupancy times.

Image Source: London Gatwick

For the Air Traffic Control (ATC) team, constructing the RET presented unique challenges.  It required new, temporary procedures and collaboration was key, with the ATC Ops team working closely with the airport to finalise construction methods, agree on build phases, and ensure safety compliance.

In the Tower, controllers and assistants had to navigate operations amidst major construction sites in close proximity to the runway.

Early data from NATS Analytics indicates the new RET is delivering a promising reduction of 2 seconds in average arrival runway occupancy times. Despite the newness of the RET for many crews, this bodes well for future improvements in runway efficiency and airfield resilience.


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