Understanding ATC

As we celebrate Armed Forces day, 78 Squadron, Air Traffic Control Officer, Flight Lieutenant Ross Hammerton, tells us about his recent trip to the D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations in Normandy. The event commemorated members of RAF No. 15082 GCI & Mobile Signals Units, a little-known British radar unit that landed on Omaha Beach with US Forces and lost several personnel. 

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Last week I attended the Sustainable Skies World Summit in Farnborough where SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel), hydrogen propulsion and new technology led the conversation.

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We were delighted to support the GMR Varalakshmi Foundation (GMRVF) again this year, through a project that seeks to support entrepreneurs in New Delhi to become financially independent. We contributed another 25 pushcarts to the initiative to support local business, and were honoured to hear the success stories of those who benefitted from our funding last year.

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We recently opened the doors of Prestwick Centre to several students from Ayrshire schools as part of the King’s Foundation programme. Keen to understand more about aviation careers and air traffic control, the students were given a tour of the operation.

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At the end of last year, we ran a series of simulations at our head office in Hampshire designed to help us understand how eVTOLs might one day operate at scale within UK airspace which promoted a lot of questions. I wanted to take this opportunity to answer some of the points people took the time to raise.

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The last couple of weeks have seen a strong Jet Stream and some rapid transatlantic crossings. That’s prompted some people to wonder if those flights have actually been flying faster than the speed of sound and going super-sonic.

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When it comes to air traffic control (ATC), our top priority is ensuring the safety of the skies. To achieve this, we sometimes need to implement what are called Air Traffic Flow and Capacity Management (ATFCM) measures. Essentially, these measures allow us to manage demand in different parts of the airspace so that traffic levels always remain safe.

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The weekend of the 7th-9th July marked a pivotal moment for aviation. Our Shanwick Oceanic ATC team, based in NATS Prestwick Centre, Scotland, set new benchmarks for Oceanic traffic movements, whilst delivering high levels of efficiency and safety.

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We don’t often find ourselves in the situation when we have to put on regulations – restrict the traffic flows – at airports where we provide the ATC, but it can happen when an unexpected staff illness reduces our Tower team to levels below what they need to operate normal service. Businesses everywhere have to deal with short-notice staff sickness, but it’s especially noticeable for us because it means aircraft can be delayed, or sometimes even diverted to another airport, and that means inconvenience to the airlines and to the travelling public.

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With thunder, lightning and torrential rain also tend come flight delays. Those are often mysteriously put down to ‘air traffic control restrictions’, but what does that mean in reality and why are storms such a headache for air traffic controllers?

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