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Canadian technology now keeps track of air traffic across entire North Atlantic

More than 1,000 flights a day across the busy North Atlantic airspace are now tracked by Canadian-designed technology from the edge of the North American continent to the shores of Europe.


September 19, 2007
By Carey Fredericks

More than 1,000 flights a day across the busy North Atlantic airspace are now tracked by Canadian-designed technology from the edge of the North American continent to the shores of Europe.

This new milestone in oceanic air traffic management is the outcome of a successful partnership between NAV CANADA and the UK's NATS (formerly National Air Traffic Services), the air navigation service providers in their respective countries.

The initial focus of the partnership was a project to develop the Gander Automated Air Traffic System (GAATS), operated by NAV CANADA air traffic controllers in Gander, Newfoundland, to meet NATS requirements.

Canadian engineers and software designers worked side by side with their NATS counterparts on the project over a four-year period. The result is known as the Shanwick Automated Air Traffic System (SAATS), now operational in Prestwick, Scotland. The technology in both SAATS and GAATS provides air traffic controllers with a "moving picture" of air traffic despite the absence of radar in oceanic airspace, through the use of advanced air traffic management software.

Both systems also allow controllers and pilots to communicate directly through text-based data link over satellite, a significant improvement over HF radio.

The partnership between NATS and NAV CANADA to install the system was the result of an agreement signed between the two parties in late 2002. A team of up to 36 technical and operational experts from Canada and the U.K. worked collaboratively on modifying the system to meet the technical and operational requirements for Prestwick.

NATS has also implemented NAV CANADA technology in several of its control towers. The Extended Computer Display System (EXCDS), which allows air traffic controllers to manage flight data electronically, thereby eliminating the need for paper flight strips, is in use at Stansted, Gatwick and Luton airports. It will be deployed at Heathrow in 2007.