It’s six weeks since air traffic pretty much disappeared from our skies and whichever flight tracking app you might use, you’re not seeing much on it any more. For our air traffic controllers, it’s now like working a permanent night shift, bumping along at around 10% of normal traffic levels. Many of our controllers have been furloughed though, as key workers, it is important we rotate them through the operation and that we have an on-call shift in reserve at all times, to maintain resilience.  And to be ready for a restart, whenever and however that might happen.

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In a world where aeronautical information changes all the time, it’s important there is a standardised approach to making those changes. One of the management processes that NATS use to make operationally significant changes is ‘AIRAC’. But what is ‘AIRAC’, and why do we use it?

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As an air traffic controller, I usually manage aircraft in a very busy sector of airspace. However, as millions of people across the world are put on lockdown, the number of flights across the UK has dropped dramatically and I’ve been put on furlough. It’s unusual to have time off like this and I wanted to try and fill it doing something meaningful. A friend told me about a community group looking for volunteers to make urgently needed personal protective clothing for the NHS and care homes, so I got stuck in.

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The use of the phonetic spelling alphabet – Alfa, Bravo, Charlie etc – is a common sound in air traffic control towers and centres around the world, but where did it come from and why does everyone use the same one?

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Thinking back through the major crises I’ve worked through during my professional life and nothing has come close to the impact that the COVID-19 outbreak is having on both our industry.

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Mum and me at NATS

With Mother’s Day around the corner and given the fact we could all do with some cheer right now, we thought it would be fun to chat to some of the mums at NATS who have, in turn, inspired their children to join us.

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For #WorldSleepDay we spoke to our air traffic controllers about the importance of a good night’s sleep and working around the challenges of shift work.

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From time to time, you might hear us talk about airspace changes. But we rarely talk about the work that goes on behind the scenes to deliver the end result. Every change is broken down into elements, all managed by different teams – from safety experts to engineers who work closely to put their individual puzzle pieces together. These teams must ensure they deliver their pieces of the puzzle on time so that projects don’t slip, and airspace changes can always be delivered on the date that has been planned.

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To celebrate International Women’s Day this Sunday 8 March and the 100th anniversary year for air traffic control, we are giving 100 lucky winners the opportunity to win a NATS goody bag, featuring one of our commemorative retro patches.  

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This year marks 100 years since the birth of air traffic control services in the UK – at Croydon Airport in south London. Today, we are on the verge of another revolution in air traffic control.  

Quite rightly, there is now huge focus on how we can make flying more environmentally sustainable.  People want to fly, and aviation has opened up global markets that nobody imagined 100 years ago.  We won’t be turning the clock back – we just have to get smarter at how we fly. 

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