Posted on February 5, 2012 · Posted in Scotland

As might be expected for a location that controls air traffic over a large part of the UK and the eastern North Atlantic, security at NATS at Prestwick was tight so we all had to show our passports to get into the control centre. We were met by Chris Allan, Manager Customer Affairs & Operational Interfaces, who was to be our host for the afternoon.

NATS is a commercial organisation that competes for business in the UK and abroad. As well as providing air traffic control services NATS has consultancy and engineering functions. Chris explained all aspects of NATS’ business. He showed us how the controllers manage air traffic in their area and played some voice communications between aircraft and controllers. The amount of information available from any aircraft varies quite considerably and is governed by the type of equipment fitted to the aircraft.

We were also given an insight into the performance pressures on the industry as a whole and on NATS in particular. The requirements of punctuality and efficiency were very familiar to us from our experience on the railway. The cost of airline fuel is an extremely important issue in the industry and NATS works closely with the airlines to make sure costs are kept as low as possible. Chris then let us view the operating floor of the control centre and explained the functions of the various desks.

It was immediately apparent that training and ongoing competency is a very important part of the NATS operation. The operations floor includes a simulator suite and this allows trainees to feel part of the live operation from early in their training. Again, this was an interesting comparison with railway operations. Scottish IRO visits NATS at Prestwick A fitting tribute to Derek The RAF and the Royal Navy work to different principles in controlling aircraft, but the military controllers work on the same floor as the civilian controllers, and this ‘Integrated Control’ has proved very valuable.

We left NATS with a much greater understanding of the technicalities and business aspects of air traffic control but we had also seen an operation that was familiar to us in many ways from the railway. We would like to thank Chris Allan of NATS for taking the time to explain so much to us and Jim Douglas for arranging the visit.