NATS: BT managed service helps assure the safety of crowded skies

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Managed BT IP Connect network helps transform air traffic management across the UK

Managing the safety and efficiency of the airspace around some of the world’s busiest airports is challenging at the best of times. Doing that with a legacy infrastructure is doubly difficult.

The NATS management team knew that the demands on the existing communications network were increasing and, without a new approach, the risk to service performance in this critical operational environment would escalate. So they sought a collaborative partner that could take full accountability for the provision and management of all their network services.

A BT IP Connect managed service converging voice, video and data onto a single IP network and having the ability to flex to meet future requirements will provide NATS with the confidence to focus on its business priorities.

With much improved service and substantial operational savings we get a win/win result, proving that when two expert companies get together great things can happen.”
- David Hawken, General Manager, Engineering Service Delivery, NATS

Transforming air traffic management


Watch this two minute video to learn how NATS is using a BT IP Connect managed network to help transform air traffic management across the UK.


NATS manages the passage of commercial flights in transit across the UK, and into and out of fifteen UK airports, along with military traffic operating within and outside controlled airspace. The company was established in 2001 as the world’s first part-privatised air navigation service provider.

Air traffic movements can peak at well over 200,000 per month in the summer and, to safely direct aeroplanes, controllers have to be able to rely upon clear voice communication. Equally importantly they need access to split-second real time information feeds, including flight information, radar and meteorological reports. But the NATS legacy network needed to be upgraded to meet growing demands.


The company’s core business is airspace management, using its people’s market-leading expertise. To maintain a clear focus on that central task, NATS decided for the first time to entrust their communications to a partner organisation and move to a managed network services model.

“We had always built and maintained our own network using standard products,” explains David Hawken, General Manager, Engineering Service Delivery at NATS, “but relentless traffic growth and the urgent need for a technology refresh meant that we could consider new options that would be more effective and cost efficient.”

Enabling passenger and freight air traffic to move into, out of, and across the country—safely and efficiently—is crucial to UK competitiveness, so partner choice was a critical decision.

BT has proven its capability and experience in delivering and managing mission critical services with customers including the UK Ministry of Defence. The NATS network supports vital information so the solution must offer reliability, scalability and flexibility for ever-changing demands. The solution chosen by NATS mixed the right technology and flexible service management along with an innovative commercial agreement. A managed BT IP Connect solution was selected for the new NATS integrated voice and data network under a 12-year contract. “Lose the network and we lose UK air traffic control so resilience is critical, and BT offers approaching 100 per cent availability,” says David Hawken.

Reach is vitally important too. Centres at Swanwick and Prestwick use the network to manage radar, navigation and communication systems across 150 sites in the UK, ranging from busy airports to isolated hilltop transmitters.

David Hawken continues: “We wanted one collaborative partner who could take national accountability for the provision and management of network services to all our sites. Only BT came close.”


Having handled 2.1 million flights in 2011 (an average of nearly 6,000 every day) NATS is nevertheless targeted with making efficiency improvements, while at the same time increasing capacity and meeting stretching service performance targets.

The BT agreement allows NATS to improve its capability whilst at the same time addressing its efficiency challenges. “The technology and its flexibility, along with the management and commercial aspects of the agreement, is a reflection of our longstanding relationship with NATS,” says David Wilson, Vice President for Global Defence and Security at BT Global Services. “Charging BT with the management of the network underpinning the safe and effective control of flights in the UK is testament to the strength of the collaboration between our two companies.”

An acid test for the new service will be the estimated 4,000 extra commercial and passenger flights that will need to be managed during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In meeting such demands a dedicated BT service desk will act as the hub for network communication across the group. The new service allows the service desk staff to change connectivity profiles virtually on demand. “Different access speeds, all the way up to Gigabit Ethernet, mean we can tailor the service to meet our evolving needs,” says David Hawken.

Innovation and leading edge technology can be taken for granted with BT, but equally important for NATS was an organisation that understood its business and could work collaboratively with its people to create imaginative answers to jointly-owned challenges.

“Close co-operation has enabled our teams to get to know each other, and has informed discussions about problems and solutions,” concludes David Hawken. “With much improved service and substantial operational savings we get a win/win result, proving that when two expert companies get together great things can happen.”

Core Services

  • BT IP Connect


Case study

NATS case study

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