NATS celebrates first decade as a public private partnership

Posted: 23 March 2011 | CANSO | No comments yet

Back in 2001, the part privatisation of the UK’s air traffic control service, which saw 49% retained by the government, 46% sold to private sector and 5% transferred to employees…

Back in 2001, the part privatisation of the UK’s air traffic control service, which saw 49 per cent retained by the government, 46 per cent sold to private sector and five per cent transferred to employees, was as controversial as it was pioneering. Now, ten years on, NATS continues to go from strength to strength.

The figures speak for themselves. Extraordinarily, while the amount of traffic NATS handles in one of the world’s busiest and most complex airspaces has risen from 2.02 million in 2003 to 2.17 million in 2010, the number of seconds delay attributed to NATS has plunged from 130.1 seconds to under four. With safety the primary concern, the number of annual incidents attributable to NATS has also fallen from 42 in 2003 to just six in 2010. Improved efficiency has seen NATS transform a £79.9 million loss in 2003 to a £78.3 million profit in 2010.

And NATS’ achievements are not confined to statistics. Over the past decade, the company has shown a consistent spirit for innovation that has introduced several groundbreaking developments in air traffic control. One recent success is an affordable GPS navigation device called AWARE, which helps general aviation (GA) pilots avoid straying into restricted airspace. An instant hit with the GA community, it helped reduce infringements into NATS-controlled airspace (a significant risk to safety) by 34 per cent in 2010. AWARE’s success was recognised at the 2011 Jane’s Air Traffic Control Awards, where it won in the Service Provision category.

In addition, NATS has launched a new data management solution, already deployed at Gatwick and Heathrow airports, which will enable enhanced sharing of information via an affordable, easy-to-use online application, aiding efficiency and safety. NATS’ record on the environment has also flourished. In 2008, NATS became the first Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) in the world to set a target on air traffic management (ATM) related CO2 emissions. It pledged to reduce such emissions by 10 per cent per flight (against a 2006 baseline) by March 2020 and have already started to deliver against that target. In 2009 alone, NATS enabled 25,000 tonnes of CO2 savings.

NATS celebrates its first 10 years of PPP having firmly established itself as an ANSP with an excellent track record for safety, efficiency, reliability and innovation and a reputation for cross-industry collaboration and ethical conduct. Though still one of only a handful of ANSPs worldwide to be part privatised, it is evidence that the model can bring big benefits.

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