If you are a wind farm or building developer, or someone involved in this process, you may have already heard of NATS (formally known as NATS Holdings Limited). The term originally stood for National Air Traffic Services, and they are one of the UK’s largest aviation stakeholders that form a vital part of the worldwide airspace network. They have the responsibility of maintaining and safeguarding a number of radar installations, airports and navigation sites across the UK. NATS provides air traffic control services to 14 UK airports, including some major airports such as London Heathrow and London Stansted, and also provides some services to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD). Identifying these relevant sites, understanding any potential impact and consulting with NATS early may therefore be beneficial for managing costs and the planning timeline of your project.
Figure 1: Pope Field Air Traffic Control Tower. 
Bank Holiday Issues
On 28th August 2023, a technical issue was found within the NATS systems that affected the ability to automatically process flight plans. This meant that each flight plan had to be individually processed by a NATS official, causing a major bottleneck as flight plans could not be processed in the same volume that they normally are by the system. Flights were arranged to depart and arrive at a faster rate than they could be processed, and therefore restrictions had to be placed on traffic flow (number of aircraft that can depart/arrive during a certain time period) on airports using NATS services. It is unclear when the issue started, but the first statement identifying that there was an issue and announcing traffic flow restrictions was published at 12:10 UK time. A statement was released to say that the issue was rectified just over 3 hours later, at 15:15. This may not sound like a long time, but at major airports like London Heathrow which have on average 500+ flights arriving or departing every day, three hours of disruption can create a significant backlog which can affect thousands of flights. Some believe that the effect on the widespread network could take a week or more to resolve.
Only in January of this year, there was the US FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Notice to Air Mission Systems (NOTAMS) outage that grounded flights around the US. The FAA later determined that the incident was caused by the accidental deletion of files essential to NOTAMS’ operation. NOTAMS is responsible for notifying pilots of any last-minute alerts that may affect travel safety, and the outage grounded flights in the US from taking off, but not from landing if they were already in the air.
Events like these highlight the importance of Air Traffic Control systems to the safe and smooth operation of UK and indeed, worldwide airspace. These systems might seem inconspicuous when working smoothly as they do most of the time, but when a rare issue arises, it can have a massive impact of the network. In this case an issue that was resolved within a few hours has created impacts that could last days or weeks, it’s hard to say.
About Pager Power
Pager Power undertakes technical assessments for developers of renewable energy projects and tall buildings worldwide.
Pager Power knows of all UK NATS sites which require safeguarding from wind and building developments. We have also completed over 1100 glint and glare assessments for solar developments, many of which involve assessment of glare towards Air Traffic Control Towers. If you are unsure whether your proposed development may affect Air Traffic Control Services or NATS safeguarded infrastructure, please get in touch.
 Peter Miller (2013) Pope Field Air Traffic Control Tower. Last accessed on 30th August 2023. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pope_Field_Air_Traffic_Control_Tower_(9206250542)