NATS Holdings

For other uses, see NATS (disambiguation).
NATS Holdings Limited
Public-private partnership
Industry Air travel and airports
Genre Information Services
Predecessor NATCS
Founded 1962
Headquarters Whiteley, England, United Kingdom
Number of locations
London Area Control Centre and London Terminal Control Centre at Swanwick, Area Control at Prestwick and air traffic control services at UK airports, as well as offices in Dubai and Singapore
Area served
UK airspace
Key people
Martin Rolfe (Chief Executive Officer)
Services International air traffic services and consultancy
Subsidiaries NATS En-Route PLC
NATS Services Ltd
Website NATS

NATS Holdings, formerly National Air Traffic Services and commonly referred to as NATS, is the main air navigation service provider in the United Kingdom. It inherited the traditions of UK air traffic control, which (founded over Croydon Airport) was the world's first air traffic control regime. 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 fourteen UK airports.

The workforce of NATS is mainly made up of Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs), Air Traffic Control Engineers (ATCEs), Air Traffic Services Assistants (ATSAs) and Science Technical Analytical and Research Staff (STARs). Administrative and Support staff make up the remainder of the 4,500 or so staff employed by NATS.

NATS is split into two main service provision companies: NATS En-Route PLC (NERL) and NATS Services Ltd (NSL).

NATS' en-route business is regulated and operated under licence from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). 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.[2]



The organisation was originally set up 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 Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in 1972. Prior to this 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 Marshal. 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 and provided ATC services until it closed in 2007, with the move to Swanwick. Scottish air traffic control has been carried out from Atlantic House in Prestwick since 1978. This situation changed with the opening of the Prestwick Centre in 2010, to which all Operational Services were transferred from the old Atlantic House. The Prestwick Centre houses the Domestic and Oceanic Services and allows for state of the art technology to be introduced in future.


In 1992 it was recognised that as a service provider, NATS should be operated at some distance from its regulator, the CAA. Although debated, it was decided that NATS should not be privatised at that time. NATS was re-organised into a limited company on 1 April 1996[3] and became a wholly owned subsidiary of the CAA.[4] 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.

Public-private partnership

In 1998, a 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.



Gatwick Airport ATC tower

As a public private partnership the UK government holds 49% and a golden share, with 42% held by the Airline Group, 5% by NATS staff, and 4% by UK airport operator LHR Airports Limited.[5]


Martin Rolfe has been CEO of NATS since May 2015. Other Board members are listed here:

UK air traffic

In 2015 NATS handled 2,256,152 flights, an increase of 2.5% over 2014.[6]


Over the years NATS has grown from a UK focused business to a global business, with contracts in more than 30 countries. It offers aerodrome, data and consultancy solutions to worldwide customers which include airports, air traffic service providers (ANSP) and governments.

The company works through six Service Lines:


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

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


The airports service line provides air traffic services at 14 UK airports:

Heathrow Airport ATC tower
Edinburgh Airport ATC tower

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

NATS also provides services to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), via Qinetiq, for Air Traffic and Range Air Control Services at a number of UK Ranges, including:

NATS also provides services to the MoD's Military Aviation Authority.

NATS also provide an ATC Engineering service at Belfast City Airport

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.


NATS, through its Airports Service Line, established an alliance with Spanish partner Ferrovial in 2011, forming ferroNATS,[7] which provides air traffic control (ATC) services at nine airports across Spain: Alicante, Valencia, Ibiza, Sabadell, Sevilla, Jerez, Melilla, Madrid Cuatro Vientos, Vigo and A Coruña airports in Spain. FerroNATS was awarded the contract to provide services at these airports through a competitive tender process run by the Spanish aviation authority, AENA. All nine operational handovers were completed between November 2012 and January 2014.


NATS helps the military around the world share airspace with civil aviation for commercial, political and environmental reasons. Services NATS provides include:


AQUILA is a joint venture between NATS and Thales responsible for delivering the UK’s Marshall programme to transform terminal air traffic management at military airfields. Marshall seeks to ensure a safe, efficient and sustainable Air Traffic Management (ATM) service for the UK Armed Forces. It will modernise ATM at over 100 MoD locations, in the UK and overseas, including more than 60 airfields and ranges.

AQUILA will deliver a system-wide modernisation and rationalisation of the current fragmented system, and establish a flexible ATM service which is future-proofed to meet potential changes in the regulatory and technological landscape.

As part of the contract, AQUILA provides air traffic control services at Gibraltar and Wattisham airfields.


NATS ensures that engineering customers' technology and infrastructure projects are transitioned with the operational context in mind. Engineering services NATS provides include:


NATS enables the ATC community to find innovative ways to solve specific operational and technical challenges as well as providing air traffic control services. These include:

Information services

NATS provides the necessary information services to enable customers to keep pace with technology and legislation. This is especially important as society, especially aviation, moves to a more automated, predictable and cost-effective way of operating. Services provided by NATS include:

Associations and alliances with other organisations

NATS is a full member of the SESAR (the Single European Sky ATM Research programme) Joint Undertaking and a member of the SESAR Deployment Alliance, a cross-industry partnership made up of four airline groups, operators of 25 airports and 11 air traffic control providers. The SESAR Deployment Alliance was appointed to the role of SESAR Deployment Manager by the European Commission in December 2014 and will help to coordinate and synchronise the modernisation of Europe’s air traffic management system.[8]

NATS is a founding member of two of Europe’s leading ANSP Alliances – the A6 Alliance and the Borealis Alliance.[9][10]

The A6 is an alliance of some of the main European Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs). Its aim is to help drive modernisation of the European ATM network within the SESAR programme for the benefit of customers. The A6 members are full members of the SESAR Joint Undertaking and are part of the SESAR Deployment Alliance, which was recently appointed SESAR Deployment Manager by the European Commission.

The Borealis Alliance is a leading Alliance of Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) that enables its Members to drive better performance for stakeholders through business collaboration. The Alliance includes the ANSPs of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Norway, Sweden and the UK. The Borealis Alliance is currently working on a major programme to deliver free route airspace across the whole of Northern Europe by 2020.

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 UK and Ireland launched the first operational Functional Airspace Block, often referred to in the industry as FAB,[11] under the European Commission's Single European Sky initiative.[12][13]

NATS is a full member of CANSO. It is a shareholder in European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP), a company set up to operate EGNOS.

NATS is well known for the air traffic services it provides in the UK but also works internationally providing air traffic and consultancy services in over 30 countries, working with many different organisations in Europe and beyond, including Singapore, the United States and Qatar.

Notable incidents

From the 15th to the 20th of April 2010, under internationally agreed guidelines that require a zero tolerance approach to ash, NATS placed a series of restrictions on aircraft operating in UK controlled airspace owing to the potential dangers caused by a volcanic ash cloud from the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull,[14] in co-operation with the Met Office, CAA and UK Government.

On 12 December 2014, from 15:30 until 16:30, traffic flow throughout the London airspace was restricted due to a computer system failure at NATS. At 15:30 an announcement was made by Eurocontrol that "There has been a failure of the flight data computer server at London ACC [area control centre]." At 16:30 the airspace was reopened, however it remained restricted with some landing flights being turned away.[15] NATS reported that the failure was due to a single faulty line of software source code.[16]


  1. "IVAO Gander / Shanwick Oceanic". IVAO Gander.
  2. "About us". NATS. Retrieved 2012-10-01.
  3. NATS Our Story, NATS Communications, 2006
  4. "History". NATS. Retrieved 2012-10-01.
  5. "A Public Private Partnership". NATS – Our Ownership. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  6. "Total flights handled 2000–2015". NATS. Retrieved 2016-09-06.
  7. "ferroNATS". ferronats.
  8. "SESAR Deployment Manager". SESAR Deployment Manager, Funded by the European Union. 2015-04-22. Retrieved 2015-04-25.
  9. "A6 Alliance". A6 Alliance. 2015-04-22. Retrieved 2015-04-25.
  10. "Borealis Alliance". Borealis Alliance, Borealis is a registered trademark. 2015-04-22. Retrieved 2015-04-25.
  11. "UK Ireland FAB". UK Ireland FAB. 2013-07-14. Retrieved 2015-04-27.
  12. "FAQs". NATS. 2009-07-14. Retrieved 2012-10-01.
  13. "NATS and IAA publish three year plan for Functional Airspace Block (FAB)". 2009-05-18. Retrieved 2012-10-01.
  14. BBC NewsIceland volcano: UK flights grounded for second day 16 April 2010
  15. "Flights disrupted after computer failure at UK control centre". BBC. 12 December 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  16. "Air chaos: Vince Cable accuses Nats of poor investment". BBC. 14 December 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
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