Air traffic management has a natural environmental aspect. More efficient navigation means less time in the air for aircraft, less fuel burned and, of course, less CO2.

The British air traffic management provider, NATS, has taken great care to ensure that environmental issues are at the forefront of employees’ minds with their extensive Environmental Awareness Programme, which has played a major role in achieving NATS’ self-set target of 4% increase in flight efficiency since 2008.

The programme is made up of a number of complimentary elements, such as tailored environmental awareness courses, which have now been delivered to over 200 people at locations across the NATS estate. As part of these courses, NATS ran “Dragon’s Den”-style sessions, where NATS staff pitched their ideas to colleagues, much like the British television programme. Many of these ideas have now been brought into practice.

As well as classroom-focussed activities, NATS run an online self-guided environmental awareness module, which has been completed by over 1,000 staff and is also available to external partners.

In February 2012 NATS held its first ‘Lunchtime Lecture’ for staff who may not normally be involved directly in NATS’ environmental activities. This ‘Challenge the Expert’ session gave staff the chance to ask questions of a world-renowned climate scientist. The excellent debate prompted some staff to try to reduce their own environmental footprint. 

One of the tools the teams use to assess efficiency is now also used to financially regulate the company. The “3Di” score is an environmental metric developed by NATS, which measures the efficiency of how aircraft are routed through UK airspace. The metric compares the actual trajectory an aircraft takes with an optimal trajectory which minimises fuel burn and CO2 emissions.

Each flight is given a 3Di score and in 2014 NATS evolved its use of 3Di further to bring it closer to its air traffic operation and to move from monthly performance reporting to near real-time performance monitoring. The flight optimisation system, or FLOSYS, is a bespoke tool which was developed by NATS, Altran UK and Lockheed Martin. It takes real radar data, updated every three minutes, and combines it with NATS’ 3Di airspace efficiency metric to produce a graphical representation of every flight in UK airspace.

This means NATS controllers can now immediately see the 3Di score for every flight they handle through every phase of flight and airspace sector, as well as compare it against other flights along the same route up to 12 months ago, including the average and best performing. By having access to this data, controllers and airspace managers can identify the opportunities for operational improvements that will save airlines fuel and cut carbon emissions.