Wings Magazine

NATS, NAV CANADA finalize North Atlantic tech upgrade

Dec. 3, 2014, Ottawa - An innovative and shared oceanic air traffic control system with enhanced features has been implemented at NATS Control Centre in Prestwick, Scotland and NAV CANADA's Control Centre in Gander, Nfld. to assist controllers as they direct aircraft across the North Atlantic - the busiest oceanic airspace in the world.

December 3, 2014  By Carey Fredericks

This is the latest in a series of air traffic control technology and procedural advances in this airspace, in which NATS and NAV CANADA are responsible for providing service to over 400,000 flights per year between Europe and North America.

The technology, originally installed in Gander and now also operational in Prestwick, is known as the Gander Automated Air Traffic System (GAATS+) – the world’s most advanced oceanic air traffic system.

GAATS+ is a result of a unique NAV CANADA-NATS joint development model that has been in place since 2003, when a team of technical and operational experts from Canada and the UK worked together to adapt an early version of NAV CANADA’s GAATS to meet the technical and operational requirements of Prestwick Centre.

This same successful “build-once, use-twice” approach was used again recently to prepare and migrate the current GAATS+ system for use in the Prestwick Centre. Now, for the first time, controllers in Prestwick and Gander can exchange messages back and forth with advanced automation, allowing improved coordination between the centres. This functionality is in addition to other enhanced features of GAATS+ that will facilitate further improvements to the safety and efficiency of transatlantic air routes, and will help to position the two organizations for future initiatives such as SWIM (System Wide Information Management) to enable greater sharing and integration of ATM system information.


Martin Rolfe, Managing Director, Operations, NATS, said: “The use of GAATS+ at the NATS Control Centre in Prestwick will greatly enhance the Oceanic operation and increase efficiencies for us as well as for our airline customers. This is a hugely important development not only for the immediate benefits it will deliver, but also for future technologies that the system will enable. It is a further step towards a more harmonized operational and technical approach between all of the countries that manage aircraft over the North Atlantic”.

“Both our customers and our controllers will benefit from increased functionality and greater commonality at both Oceanic centres”, said John Crichton, President and CEO of NAV CANADA. “This includes the seamless integration of ground-based ADS-B surveillance features in GAATS+ which will serve as the basis for the satellite-based ADS-B services offered by Aireon in 2018”.

The GAATS+ system features increased automation of data exchange with other air traffic facilities and integrates a series of safety net tools such as conflict prediction and conflict alert. It also provides controllers with a snapshot of current and planned traffic as well as available route profiles, allowing the controller to easily identify an aircraft’s preferred route and provide a conflict-free clearance.

The introduction of further collaborative North Atlantic initiatives by NAV CANADA and NATS – such as Reduced Lateral Separation Minima (RLatSM) – will also be implemented on the common oceanic control system, providing customers with efficiency benefits for their flights across the ocean.

The success of the original agreement between NAV CANADA and NATS and the implementation of GAATS+ across the North Atlantic has also provided a foundation to broaden the scope of collaboration. A new Program called COAST (Collaboration on Oceanic Airspace Systems and Tools) will be focusing on continued long-term collaboration opportunities for improved safety, service, value and environmental benefits for customers who fly the North Atlantic.


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