Nats has begun the implementation of the new EXCDS electronic flight strip system.
The technology is being introduced at the London Terminal Control Centre, which manages flights entering and departing London and the south-east - some of the busiest and most complex airspace in the world.
The system will replace the existing paper strips system, which Nats said will not be able to cope with the demand that is forecast for the future.
A flight strip is one of the core elements of an air traffic control system, providing an air traffic controller with all the relevant information about each individual aircraft, including its speed, altitude and destination.
Nats explained in a statement: “Our controllers currently use paper strips to manage air traffic within London Terminal Control.
“While this has served us well, we need to move to an electronic system in order to meet future growth.
“EXCDS is part of a broader ten-year £1 billion technology transformation programme at Nats, which will update many of the core systems used to manage air traffic in order to meet forecast growth, improve efficiency and reduce our impact on the environment, while also maintaining and improving our already high safety levels.”
EXCDS offers two main benefits compared to paper strips.
Firstly, the system simplifies coordination between air traffic controllers, thereby reducing controller workload.
Currently, controllers have to call each other to pass aircraft between sectors.
This is time consuming and adds to controller workload in what is already a complex operation.
Introducing electronic coordination reduces the time spent on the phone, freeing up controllers to manage the growing volumes of traffic being seen and laying the foundations for future growth.
Secondly, EXCDS introduces a conformance monitoring tool in to the London Terminal Control operation for the first time.
This will automatically alert controllers if an aircraft takes actions different to those instructed.
This will enable the controller to take remedial action swiftly and is expected to help reduce level-busts, whereby pilots mistakenly enter a different flight level to that which has been instructed.
The London Terminal Control operation is one of the most complex and busy airspace operations in the world.
To help with the transition Nats will be limiting the volumes of traffic that enter the airspace they control for a short period during the initial stages of the transition.
For the first ten days, from today, there will be a 20 per cent reduction in the maximum volume of traffic handled by those sectors, which will then reduce to ten per cent for the subsequent ten days, though these rates may gradually increase during these phases as controllers gain confidence.
Measures have been put in place to mitigate the impact, including for example by re-routing aircraft through other sectors.
This has been planned in close cooperation with the airports and airlines most affected by this transition.
Find out more on the official Nats website.