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As critical infrastructures go, there are few more critical than ensuring the safe travel of aircraft. In a bid to modernise and secure its next generation network, NATS has engaged leading UK telco BT, which will take responsibility for the consolidation and modernisation of its critical data network as well as manage digital networking and cyber security across its sites.
Formerly known as National Air Traffic Services, NATS provides en-route air traffic control services to flights within the UK flight information regions from two air traffic control centres located at Swanwick in Hampshire, England and Prestwick in Ayrshire, Scotland.
Handling over 2.5 million flights every year, NATS also provides air traffic control services to 14 UK airports and air traffic services at Gibraltar Airport and, more recently, Hong Kong International Airport.
NATS announced in July 2023 that it had agreed plans for a new contingency control tower at Heathrow airport in London, contracted to deliver the installation and transition of the operations room. Work on the virtual contingency facility (VCF), due to be operational in 2025, has already commenced.
The facility will replace the existing back up “tower” and represents a major investment by Heathrow, providing added resilience to the airport operation and protection to the nation’s aviation infrastructure.
The original VCF – based in undisclosed location off the airport – was said to be a world first in 2009. A windowless recreation of the main control tower, it has meant the airport could operate at around 70% of full capacity should it ever be required. Live images from ultra-high-definition cameras will provide controllers with views allowing them to work as normal, keeping the airport fully operational.
Under the seven-year deal with BT, NATS said is looking to strengthen its technology infrastructure by creating a future-fit strategic network architecture to support air traffic operations in the UK.
BT said it will also develop an enhanced cyber security capability with NATS, which will include a new proactive central coordination point for cyber resilience. Together, these services will enhance NATS’ technology programme into the future and provide leading support for the technical operations it relies on.
“NATS is implementing a truly transformational technology programme to keep the skies safe and support our customers worldwide, so it is vital we have BT as industry leaders alongside us,” said Tim Bullock, supply chain and facilities management director at NATS.
“We select organisations at the top of their game technically, to join our collaborative ecosystem of partners. I’m delighted with the partnership we have formed and look forward to working together for many years to come to deliver great solutions for our customers.”
Andy Rowe, director of central government at BT, added: “Secure, high-bandwidth connectivity is essential in keeping the UK’s air traffic moving in the future – so after many years of building world-class networks and cyber security for providers of critical national infrastructure, we are looking forward to delivering this now for NATS.
“Under the partnership, we will be responsible for both network provision and cyber security within the NATS strategic supplier ecosystem, and will be embarking on consolidating and modernising the entire network to build a world-class digital infrastructure that is fit for the future of air traffic management.”
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