Airspace

In August’s episode of Altitude, we had a fascinating discussion about the future of Urban Air Mobility and eVTOL ‘flying taxis’. We had some very astute questions from the audience, many of which we just didn’t have the time to get to during the live show. So, with that in mind, I wanted to address a few more here.

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The NATS Analytics team – with backgrounds ranging from data science, mathematics and statistics to aeronautical engineering and air traffic control – was instrumental in producing the safety assessment that supported new oceanic global separation reductions and calculated the significant safety benefits due to the frequent and accurate positional updates.

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Despite being a fairly regular occurrence in the world of aviation, an aircraft failing to land and trying again is always seen as something quite scary and dramatic when it’s spoken about in the media.

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New technologies provide a huge amount of data – how we use that data is part of several European-wide SESAR 2020 projects in which NATS has been involved. In particular, the projects have been exploring how enhanced communications between aircraft and air traffic controllers (ATCOs) could enable environmental, safety, efficiency and cost benefits for the aviation industry.

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While there are acute differences between our oceanic and domestic operations, there is a great deal we can learn from one to build on the other.

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While the last two years have been extremely challenging for aviation, it has also given us an opportunity to find new ways of doing things without the pressure of intense traffic levels.  New technologies are advancing rapidly and the way we travel, receive goods, pilot aircraft, and manage airspace are changing as a result.

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Right now, our big challenge is volatility. We’re currently seeing 80%-90% of pre-pandemic traffic in the UK, but that traffic is both very ‘peaky’ and often presenting in places and at times that were not expected.

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When we were asked by our colleagues at RAF 78 Squadron, based in our Swanwick centre, to support a flypast over London to help mark The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, how could we possibly refuse? So just how do we plan a flypast in some of the UK’s busiest airspace?

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The latest forecasts suggest Europe’s summer traffic levels will be close to 85% of what we saw before the pandemic, with flight numbers even exceeding pre-Covid levels at certain times and in certain places.

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Building on the research and the experience of live trials with SATAVIA, we hope to get a better understanding of what contrail formation means for our controllers and operation over the North Atlantic and how we could implement avoidance strategies without increasing fuel consumption, and CO2 emissions.

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