UK air traffic control centre finally takes off

More than 15 years after it was conceived - in the year that Margaret Thatcher won her third term as prime minister - the New En...

More than 15 years after it was conceived - in the year that Margaret Thatcher won her third term as prime minister - the New En Route Centre air traffic control system at Swanwick in Hampshire has finally gone live.

Although the system is five years late the operator of the Swanwick centre, National Air Traffic Services, believes that adherence to January's operational date is a major achievement.

As the system is a safety-critical application, responsible for providing aircraft and radar data to help controllers to guide planes in and out of UK air space, the software's two million lines of code have had to pass independent safety, resilience and integrity checks.

Once there were 21,000 bugs in the software. Now there are none.

But the project will go down in IT history, not so much because it surpasses all others in terms of technological advancement, but because it has taken longer to plan and build than it will be in operation.

A major off-the-shelf software system to control the skies around airports will be introduced at Swanwick as early as 2007. The main system, which has cost about £337m to develop, will start to be replaced between 2010 and 2012.

Meanwhile National Air Traffic Services could soon break another record. Next week it will be fighting a £40m writ issued by its PFI contractor, EDS, in what could become the longest High Court battle over an IT dispute.

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