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Air traffic control changes

29 March 2018

On Wednesday 4 April, NATS – the air traffic service provider across the UK – is introducing a new electronic flight strip system which is a change in one of the elements of air traffic control. While air traffic controllers get used to operating the new system, NATS have asked Heathrow to temporarily spread out the number of morning flights that air traffic controllers handle.

NATS have also made a request to the Government to allow a small number of additional long-haul flights (approximately 5-8) to land before 6am for the first ten days of the change. This is because between 6-7am is the busiest hour at Heathrow and allowing additional flights before 6am will give the controllers some space to adjust to the new system.

We are sorry that this will result in some additional early morning flights during these ten days. However, this transition is necessary for NATS to modernise our airspace, which will ultimately bring significant benefits through improving Heathrow’s punctuality and the efficiency of the way airspace is used.

Further detail on electronic flight strip system

A flight strip is one of the core elements of an air traffic control system, providing an air traffic controller with all the relevant information about each individual aircraft, including its speed, altitude and destination. The electronic flight strip will replace the existing paper strips system, which although it has served NATS well for many decades, needs upgrading in order to improve efficiency.

This transition from paper to electronic is an essential stage of the airspace modernisation programme that is taking place across the UK – and will play a key role in ensuring the entire system is much more efficient and resilient. NATS have already successfully made this transition in two other UK sectors – both transitions went well and these controllers are now operating at full capacity using the new electronic strips.

More information on this, including videos, blogs and an Q&A will be available on the NATS website here from the 3rd April.