LONDON – In the year generally held as the approximate centenary of Air Traffic Control. Martyn Cartledge looks at ATC operations in the UK and talks with NATS about its operations in the wake of COVID-19.
Tucked away in large en route centers and behind the glass, we see in the Visual Control Rooms at the top of the world’s airports ATC towers, are quiet and calm groups of men and women moving aircraft around the skies and airport ramps.
But just how do they do this and how has the near annihilation of air traffic, not only in the UK, but around the world affected operations?
ATC in the UK and beyond
To attempt to answer this question at both local level and in the wider world, I visited the Manchester NATS centre at Manchester Airport. This comprising of the Visual Control Room (VCR) and the small Area Control Room (ACR) situated in the new facility adjacent to the airports main Fire station.
ATC in the UK, unlike most countries, is split into two parts, that of en route and airfield with the en-route being a government contract and airfields being controlled with contracts awarded on a commercial basis.
Some airfields/operators like Liverpool, Doncaster, and Teesside run their own ATC and employ their own controllers directly. Others such as Manchester and in fact most, if not all of the major airfields in the UK, employ a contractor to supply ATC services in basically the same way as they would employ a contractor to clean the terminals.
It was once described to me by a previous ATC Manager as: “Its Manchester’s train set, we just get to push planes around it!”
Manchester Airport PLC (part of the Manchester Airports Group or MAG), has contracts with NATS who are probably the largest operator in the country and arguably the most well-known. In addition to ‘on airport operations,’ they have the Government contract to run the en-route service for the whole of the UK.