NATS Holdings

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For other uses, see NATS (disambiguation).
NATS Holdings Limited
Public-private partnership
Industry Air travel and airports
Predecessor NATCS
Founded 1962
Headquarters Whiteley, England, United Kingdom
Number of locations
London Area Control Centre at Swanwick, Prestwick and UK airports Also Abu Dhabi and Washington D.C.
Area served
UK airspace
Key people
Richard Deakin (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) 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), 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' 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.[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 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 Marshall. NATS staff were drawn from, and paid by, the CAA and the MoD.

West Drayton[edit]

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[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.

Public-private partnership[edit]

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.[6]


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.
  • 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.


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.


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.

UK Air Traffic[edit]

In February 2014 NATS handled 146,005 flights, an increase of 1.9% over February 2013.[7]


The airports service line (sometimes referred to as NSL) provides air traffic services at all Heathrow Airport Holdings airports (previously BAA):

Heathrow Airport ATC tower

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.

Edinburgh Airport ATC tower

It also has contracts with other airports not owned by Heathrow Airport Holdings, including:

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

NATS formed an alliance with Spanish partner Ferrovial in 2011, forming ferroNATS,[8] which provides air traffic control (ATC) services at 13 airports across Spain: Alicante, Valencia, Ibiza, Sabadell, Sevilla, Jerez, Melilla, Madrid Cuatro Vientos, Vigo and A Coruña airports in Spain.

NSL 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:

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

NSL also provide an ATC Engineering service at Belfast City Airport


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


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

  • Control centre systems
  • Airport technology
  • Maintenance


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[edit]

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:

Association with other organisations[edit]

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 USA and Qatar.

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]

Notable incidents[edit]

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,[11] 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.[12] NATS reported that the failure was due to a single faulty line of software source code.[13]


  1. ^ "IVAO Gander / Shanwick Oceanic". IVAO Gander. 
  2. ^ "Gibraltar Airport". Gibraltar Airport. 
  3. ^ "About us". NATS. Retrieved 2012-10-01. 
  4. ^ NATS Our Story, NATS Communications, 2006
  5. ^ "History". NATS. Retrieved 2012-10-01. 
  6. ^ "A Public Private Partnership". NATS - Our Ownership. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  7. ^ Airliner World: 7. May 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "ferroNATS". ferronats. 
  9. ^ "FAQs". NATS. 2009-07-14. Retrieved 2012-10-01. 
  10. ^ "NATS and IAA publish three year plan for Functional Airspace Block (FAB)". 2009-05-18. Retrieved 2012-10-01. 
  11. ^ BBC News - Iceland volcano: UK flights grounded for second day 16 April 2010
  12. ^ "". BBC. 12 December 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  13. ^ "Flights disruption: Nats bosses 'were warned' about plans". BBC. 14 December 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 

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