National Air Traffic Services

National Air Traffic Services
Type Public-Private Partnership
Industry Air travel and airports
Predecessor NATCS
Founded 1962
Headquarters Whiteley, England, UK
Number of locations London Area Control Centre at Swanwick, Prestwick and UK airports
Area served UK airspace
Key people Richard Deakin Chief Executive Officer
Services Air traffic control of the United Kingdom airspace
Owner(s) UK airlines (42%), NATS staff (5%), UK airport operator BAA Limited (4%), UK government (49%)
Divisions NATS En-Route PLC, NATS Services Ltd
Website NATS
References: Also known as National Air Traffic Services

NATS Ltd. (formerly National Air Traffic Services Ltd.) is the main air navigation service provider in the United Kingdom. It provides en-route air traffic control services to flights within the UK Flight Information Regions and the Shanwick Oceanic Control Area,[1] and provides air traffic control services to fifteen UK airports and Gibraltar Airport.[2]

The workforce of NATS is mainly made up of Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs), Air Traffic Control Engineers (ATCEs) and Air Traffic Services Assistants (ATSAs). Administrative and Support staff make up the remainder of the 5,000 or so staff employed by NATS.

NATS' en-route business is regulated and operated under licence from the Civil Aviation Authority. The terms of the licence require NATS to be capable of meeting on a continuous basis any reasonable level of overall demand. They are charged with permitting access to airspace on the part of all users, whilst making the most efficient overall use of airspace.[3]




The organisation was originally setup as the National Air Traffic Control Services (NATCS) in 1962, bringing together responsibility for the UK's existing military and civil Air Traffic Control services.


The organisation became National Air Traffic Services when responsibility for sponsoring the civil air traffic service component was transferred to the newly formed UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in 1972. At this stage it had no legal existence - all contracts were with the CAA or MoD.


Until its establishment as a separate company, leadership of NATS (the 'Controller') alternated between civil and military, the latter normally a serving Air Marshal. The first Controller was Sir Laurence Sinclair, exceptionally an Air Vice Marshall. NATS staff were drawn from, and paid by, the CAA and the MoD.

West Drayton

The London Air Traffic Control Centre at RAF West Drayton opened in 1966. West Drayton continued to provide ATC services until it finally closed in 2007, with the move to Swanwick. Scottish air traffic control has been carried out from Atlantic House in Prestwick since 1978.


Privatisation was first mooted in 1992, and although that debate came and went, it was recognised that as a service provider, NATS should be operated at some distance from its regulator (the CAA), so NATS was re-organised into a Companies Act company on 1 April 1996[4] and became a wholly owned subsidiary of the CAA.[5] The direct involvement of military officers in the management of NATS ended at this time, although the last military Controller (Air Marshal Sir Thomas Stonor, KCB) had retired in 1991.

Notable incidents

From the 15th to the 20th of April 2010, NATS withdrew its service due to the potential dangers caused by a volcanic ash cloud from the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull.[6][7]

Ownership structure and management

Gatwick Airport ATC tower

In 1998, a controversial public-private partnership was proposed. This was written into the Transport Act 2000 and in 2001 51% of NATS was transferred to the private sector. However due to the decline in air traffic following the September 11, 2001 attacks £130m of additional investment was required, £65m coming each from the UK government and BAA, who received 4% of the company in return.[8]

The current shareholders are: the UK government (49%); The Airline Group (42%) which is a consortium of British Airways, BMI, EasyJet, Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways and Virgin Atlantic; BAA (4%); and NATS employees (5%).

Richard Deakin has been CEO of NATS since April 2010.


NATS is split into two main service provision companies: NATS En-Route PLC (NERL) and NATS Services Ltd (NSL). NERL holds the monopoly of civilian en-route air traffic control over the UK and is regulated by the CAA who, for example, determine the charges NERL can make. NERL is funded by charging airlines for the provision of air traffic services.

Free market

NSL competes for contracts in the free market to provide air traffic control at airports in the UK and overseas, as well as providing engineering, technical and education services in fields related to air traffic control.


En route

There are two control centres in the UK operated by NERL:

Various radar stations are operated around the UK one such being that on Great Dun Fell in Cumbria.


Edinburgh Airport ATC tower

NSL provides air traffic services at all BAA Limited airports:

From Aberdeen NSL provides air traffic services on behalf of NERL to offshore helicopters operating primarily from Aberdeen, Shetland (Sumburgh & Scatsta), Humberside, Norwich and North Denes.

It also has contracts with other non-BAA airports including:

Heathrow Airport ATC tower

NSL has also has won contracts to provide a part of the air traffic control services at certain airports including:

NSL also provides services to the MoD, via QinetiQ for Air Traffic and Range Air Control Services at a number of UK Ranges, including:

NSL also provides services to the UK Military Aviation Authority

Association with other organisations

NATS is a full member of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation. It is a shareholder in European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP), a company set up to operate the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS).

Since the 1940s, the Irish and UK air traffic control service providers have worked effectively together. This was further strengthened in July 2008 when the Irish and UK governments announced that NATS and IAA had jointly introduced the first Functional Airspace Block under the European Commission's Single European Sky initiative.[9][10]


External links

Video clips

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