Sky jam

Sky jam

You're tired and stiff after a long flight and you can't wait to land.

But then the captain says there'll be a delay because there aren't any landing slots available. So you circle the airport in a holding pattern for what seems like ages - groans all round.

Well, such annoyances may become a thing of the past if a new air traffic management (ATM) system works as well as promised.

Nats - the UK's air traffic control provider formerly known as National Air Traffic Services - is rolling out a new ?600m ($747m) computer system that could result in more flights, fewer delays and a cleaner airspace for all.

Chief architect Simon Daykin describes it as "one of the biggest transformations" in the organisation's 56-year history. The project should be complete by 2020, he says.


Managing the 2.2 million flights that cross UK airspace each year is complicated enough, but with that number forecast to rise to three million by 2030, it became clear that the current system - which dates back 40 years - would need an overhaul, explains Mr Daykin.

Perhaps the most significant change - although travellers are unlikely to notice it - will be the abandonment of the network of invisible "roads" in the sky - the routes which all aircraft currently follow.

Sky jam

Now air traffic controllers, using predictive analytics software called iFacts, will be able to predict the path of aircraft as much as 18 minutes in advance, says Mr Daykin.

"In effect we can get an earlier view of where congestion will be in the sky and tweak flight paths, which means less re-routing," he says. "We can now slow traffic down en route so you don't get stuck in a holding pattern over London."

Adding time management to the mix means controllers will be operating in four dimensions, not just the usual three of latitude, longitude and altitude.



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