The system – called iTEC – is the next generation of air traffic control technology designed to increase airspace capacity and improve safety by automatically detecting potential aircraft conflicts ahead of time.
It also helps reduce aircraft fuel burn and emissions by enabling the future introduction of ‘Free Route Airspace’ above 28,000 feet, giving pilots greater flexibility to fly the best and most direct routes instead of following the existing network of rigid waypoints and airways.
Over 110 air traffic controllers at Prestwick have spent the last 10 months being trained on the new system, which has been in use periodically at increasingly busy times since January in preparation for a full switch over.
Alastair Muir, Operations Director at Prestwick Centre, said: “An enormous amount of work has gone into getting us to this point. It’s a major milestone both for Prestwick and NATS but also for aviation in the UK. How we do air traffic control is going to change in the next five years, making flying cleaner, quieter and more fuel efficient and this is a great step forward.”
Mr Muir added: “We would like to thank our customers for their support during this transition which we recognise caused some disruption to their operations. We have worked to ensure this has been kept to a minimum and will continue to manage this during the peak summer traffic period.”
The system will initially be used to only control aircraft at high altitude over Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland, but will be rolled out across the entire UK operation at NATS’ Prestwick and Swanwick centres during the next five years.
The iTEC platform has been developed by Indra to be interoperable with air traffic management systems across Europe. Its introduction at Prestwick – only its second deployment – represents a major milestone for NATS and helps bring the prospect of a Single European Sky closer to reality.
Gonzalo Gavin, Director of Indra ATM Europe said: “Delivering iTEC into Operation at Prestwick is the culmination of a success story between NATS and Indra in a really effective partnership. As a result of which NATS will reap significant benefit that we are sure will exceed the expectations thought possible at the outset of this programme and which will continue to grow as the experience of using iTEC develops. This enterprise places NATS at the forefront of ATM technology and paves the way for the future success of SESAR deployment throughout Europe.”
Prestwick Centre acts as Europe’s transatlantic gateway, with responsibility for 2.2m km2 of airspace and handling 80% of North Atlantic traffic. The successful deployment of iTEC forms part of a broader programme that will see NATS investing £600 million in new technology over the coming five years.