National Air Traffic Services (Nats) has awarded a £32m contract to BT for a new common communications platform for its four main control centres and the 14 airports where Nats provides air traffic control services, radar and radio stations.
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The new system will be phased in over two years and will use Nortel Networks' Passport multiservice switching platform.
Codenamed DaVinci - Data and Voice Integrated Nats Communications Infrastructure - the new system will carry all communications between Nats’ radar, communications and air traffic control centre sites, including voice telephony, ground/air communications, radar, flight and meteorological information, flight plans and Nats’ IT network.
Paul Thomas, general manager of technology and programmes at Nats, said, "This project is our biggest technical challenge after our radar replacement programme and the work to establish the next generation flight data processing system."
"DaVinci gives us a virtual private network with the safety and security levels we need at a lower cost than our current network. It is crucial to our new architecture."
Nats aims to consolidate its four air traffic control centres to two - Swanwick, introduced into service in 2001 after years of delay, and a new centre currently under construction at Prestwick, which is set to be operational by 2009.
In June Nats said it would review its software testing procedures after an embarrassing computer failure at its West Drayton air traffic control centre near Heathrow disrupted flights at all UK airports and caused serious delays for thousands of passengers.
The problem occurred after early morning tests of an upgrade to Nats' 30-year-old flight data processing system.