30 October 2023


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Have industry players been quick to adapt technology to cater to the changing needs in the market? 
Our industry has a long history of pioneering the latest technologies to extend the limits of human performance. From radio telephony and radar to flight data processing and satellite surveillance. Technology now allows previously unimaginable numbers of aircraft to safely fly all over the world every day.
Obviously, we are a safety critical industry, so that will always take precedence over anything else, but you can still see that pioneering spirit right across the industry. Looking at our own operation and at the customers we support all around the world, the last few years have seen the growing adoption of things like digital towers and airport performance enhancing technologies. Moving forward, I expect to see those types of technologies increasingly deployed in service of improving environmental sustainability – a huge challenge for our industry - and of course the integration of new airspace users, such as drones and eVTOL. 
In which areas and geographies do you see strongest potential for growth? 
With the impact of the global pandemic now thankfully in the industry’s wake, traffic is on the up again and so too is the need to maximise operational efficiency and capacity. We’re seeing that all over the world, but fundamentally the places that were on the leading edge pre-Covid and back there again. Specifically, the conversations we’re having with customers across the Middle East, India and Asia Pacific tells me that those countries have their sights set on growth and innovation, and we’re excited to be supporting them meet those objectives. 
What technologies do you predict will impact the ATM industry most in the next five years?
Over the next five years, I think we’re going to see a big rise in the adoption of digital control towers, building even further on the smart labs and prototype deployments we have successfully made in Singapore and Heathrow; but more specifically of the hybrid variety as ANSPs and regulators look to integrate this new technology into their everyday operation. We look at a hybrid tower as a ‘digital extension’ to an airport’s existing control tower, opening up access to the tools and enhancements that come with a fully digital solution, but from within an airport’s current airfield infrastructure. It’s an approach Searidge Technologies has pioneered in Hong Kong and more recently at Farnborough, a project we just announced together. I believe this kind of hybrid deployment represents a far more flexible and scalable solution and is the next evolution towards integrated digital tower solutions in airport air traffic management. I’ve no doubt we’ll see more and more airports – especially the big hubs - keen to adopt it as an approach.
I will also be intrigued to see how far Artificial Intelligent impacts aviation. We are already seeing its potential with the work Searidge Technologies has led with their Aimee platform. In the UK, NATS is part of Project Bluebird, a programme to create a digital twin of UK airspace in which we will be able to run tens of thousands of highly accurate, realistic simulations and learn things in days it might have taken months or even years to do beforehand.
How can new technology support air traffic capacity growth?
Whenever a customer approaches us to support them on a capacity enhancement project, the very first thing we do is to work with them to understand their operation in detail. We do this via our ACE – Airport Capacity Enhancement – programme. Effectively, ACE is our airport diagnostic tool kit. It allows our experts to really ‘get under the bonnet’ of an airport, understand how it works and how possible changes in procedures, airspace design or technology could help the operator achieve their goals, be it increasing capacity, reducing delay or cutting emissions. Once we have a diagnosis, we can look at which of the suite of tools, technologies we’ve developed and deployed with our partners around the world might best suit their needs. At Amsterdam Schiphol for example, we worked with them to introduce our Intelligent Approach time based spacing (TBS) tool earlier this year and they immediately saw a capacity gain of 3-6 additional aircraft per hour, per runway.
What are your expectations from Dubai Airshow 2023?
I live in Dubai, so it’s wonderful to see the global aviation community gathered here together. And as a pure aviation enthusiast, it’s an enormous treat. It’s always a fantastic show and I can’t wait to see as many of the displays as possible. From a NATS perspective, it’s an unmissable chance for us to meet with our regional and international customers, both current and prospective. We’re in the midst of doing some fascinating work with global partners in the eVTOL and integrated traffic management space, so the show is a chance for us to progress that and perhaps make some new connections. 
Lastly, what are your company’s plans in the region?
NATS has a long history of supporting our customers across the Middle East. As the global industry emerges from the impact of Covid, I expect that to continue and accelerate and we’re already investing in local talent to grow our international teams in line with customer demand. Today, our experts are supporting a number of customers on several  important national scale projects. Looking further ahead, we want to continue to develop more partnerships with other ANSPs and airports, to support both the growth of aviation across the region, but also the push for a more sustainable industry. Many of the technologies we’ve developed and deployed around the world – like Intelligent Approach and Demand Capacity Balancer - help improve operational efficiency and thereby reduce fuel burn and emissions per-flight. 
Rightfully, I can see that being more and more of a focus over the coming years and is a regular topic of conversation with my teenage children around the dinner table regarding what I can do personally to ensure aviation is more sustainable. Supporting the next generation’s view on sustainability will be key to ensuring aviation is still seen an attractive market to work in, and that our industry can still attract the highly talented people we need to deliver our exciting future. 

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