Nats claims the biggest air traffic control innovation since radar

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Nats claims the biggest air traffic control innovation since radar

Antony Savvas

A set of computer-based predictive tools developed by National Air Traffic Services (Nats) will “trigger the biggest change in air traffic control since the introduction of radar”, claims the UK’s privatised air traffic control firm.

Interim Future Area Control Tools Support  (iFacts) will further improve safety and provide controllers with a set of advanced support tools, which will enable them to increase the amount of traffic they can comfortably handle, said Nats.

A set of computer-based predictive tools developed by Nats will “trigger the biggest change in air traffic control since the introduction of radar”, claims the UK’s privatised air traffic control firm.

In trials the system has delivered “significant capacity increases” said Nats. The main Nats control centre at Swanwick, Hampshire will use the tools.

“This is one of the most exciting developments in the aviation industry in decades, and we’re now very close to introducing it,” said Paul Barron, Nats’ chief executive.

Barron said, “As well as giving us the tools to increase capacity at the rate our customers tell us they need, iFacts also alerts controllers early to flights which are not following their flight plan, and detects medium term conflicts which will also enhance our safety capability.

“These tools will provide our controllers with some of the most advanced air traffic control systems in the world,” he said.

The system monitors radar for the controllers, and assesses the viability of various options available to them for manoeuvring aircraft, as well as giving them more time to make decisions.

Traditional paper flight information strips will be replaced at Nats with electronic data lines and more sophisticated split-screen displays.

iFacts, as an interim tool, will provide capacity increases needed before the launch of the next-generation electronic Flight Data Processing (FDP) system.  The full iFacts tool set will be a key component of the new FDP system, which is a major pillar of Nats’ investment programme to increase UK capacity from 2.3 million flights a year today, to three million by 2013.

Final trials of the iiFacts tools are currently under way and a demonstration system is already installed in Swanwick’s training unit for controllers to try out.

Following full development, training, and installation of new workstations at Swanwick, iFacts will be introduced into service.

Nats has been plagued by software upgrade problems in the past. Both the company and air passengers will be hoping the latest upgrades can be implemented bug-free.

Nats investigates IT crash

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