I discovered an exciting presentation looking at future plans for the NAT. Here’s a summary.
By future, I mean as far as 2030
Which means this post really is just for those who, like me, have a slightly nerdy level of interest in the NAT (and its HLA). These changes are not ‘happening now‘ or even ‘soon‘. They are very much future plans still in a ‘being considered and discussed‘ stage.
So if you are looking for something on the NAT right now the best (and only) spot to head to remains NAT Doc 007. Here it is.
If you want an idea of what is being planned and discussed for the future then read on.
What’s the big picture plan?
ICAO posted a presentation back in February 2023 entitled ‘NAT 2030 Vision Overview’. I could just post it here but what would be the fun in that, especially since they failed to entitle it ‘NATstrodamus‘ which is disappointing at best.
Anyway, the plan is to help manage and develop 5 main principles which I have neatly summarised here:
- Respond to changing traffic profiles
- Enhance and develop NAT Ops
- Bring in new technologies and other clever developments
- Involve everyone who might be impacted, particularly the military
- Think harder about safety, service, sustainability, cost and practicality while doing all the above
What’s it look like right now?
A lot of changes have happened over the last few years already as part of this big plan.
Most recently (2022-2023):
- Space weather contingencies: A new section of NAT Doc 006 gives info on these.
- Transponder 2000: It used to be 30 minutes now it is (sometimes) 10 minutes. If you’re not sure, check the track messages because they mention in there what the timing is for the day.
- Datalink grew: The mandates have been in for a while (since 2020 mostly), but the boundaries changed again in January 2023 reducing the exempted area. Basically, you need it in the oceanic airspace over Greenland.
- Some flight levels disappeared: FL310, FL320 and FL330 vanished off the OTS meaning operators can file random routes at those levels.
- This came as part of reducing the ‘footprint of the OTS’
- The OTS is more of a planning and controlling necessity. Less OTS is actually better for operators because it is more flexible, which generally means quicker, less fuel burn and a nice improvement in environmental impact
- Portugal got more expensive: For BizJets anyway. They have added a ‘Carbon Tax’ which has a big impact on BizJets crossing the NAT between Europe and the USA.
- OWAFS: That’s ‘Operations without a fixed speed’. Basically, you enter at a constant MACH but at some point get told to ‘resume normal speed’. Normal speed means ECON, and has to be within 0.02 Mach of the Mach you were assigned.
- New contingency procedures: We’re right back in 2019 now but this was a big change – 30°, 5nm or SAND and 300′ for weather (over 5nm)
- Micro slop: Increments of 0.1nm
- ADS-B: This is ongoing, but the current progress looks like this:
- Bodø is covered from surface to FL100
- Iceland (Reykjavik CTA) is covered expect below FL255 south of 70N
- Shanwick is sorted from 100 to 60,000′
- Gander is covered from the surface to 60,000′
- Santa Maria was getting covered from Q2 2023
- New York OCA east still has work to do
- Military stuff: A random one to comment on, but remember one of their principles is to collaborate with everyone? Well, military exercises do have an impact on the NAT.
- Take a look at LFFF/Brest FIR and the big hunk of military airspace just next to the BOTA bit. When this is active it means significant re-routes for folk entering and exiting the NAT in that region.
Tell me what the future holds
Here are some of the highlights of the future plan:
Some CPDLC, surveillance type stuff:
- FANS 1/A: Despite Europe heading down the ATN route, the NAT (along with the UK, USA and mostly everywhere else) is sticking with FANS but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still developments going on.
- ATN B2: From 2026 they are going to be preparing for the use of this as well though. Now, I’m not very technically minded when it comes to this but I believe the difference is ATN B2 will incorporate ADS-C as well?
Some routing, navigation and clearances type stuff:
- Clearances will be no more: From Q2ish 2024, clearances will no longer be needed. You can read up on this plan here because the ICAO notes on it are already published.
- OWAFS: The final stage of this comes in when the clearances head out. At that point, aircraft will be able to enter the NAT region at their ‘normal’ speed.
- Effciency: They offered no specific insights but apparently plan to ‘improve horizontal and vertical flight efficiency’ and reduce the cost per 1000km by 2025.
- UPRs: User Preferred Routings will continue to be amended, with new guidance for Bodø, Shanwick and Santa Maria coming in between 2022-2026
- Strategic vs Tactical: OK, so right now, to avoid conflicts, clearances basically extend all the way from one end to landfall at the other. Once clearances go, this means conflict resolution will be progressively resolved through the duration of the flight. This will be made possible because of the much more reliable communications and surveillance technology now utilised up there. But it will likely mean some new procedures and standards applied.
- Watch out for the new Doc 007 and bulletins for Q2 2024 when this is going to come in.
- Formation flights: These are under consideration, or will be properly from 2026. Read a whole load more about this here if interested.
- NAT Tracks Nil: An experiment in 2021 while Covid was keeping things quiet. Sadly no plans to make this a permanent thing.
Some level related stuff:
- RVSM above FL410: Why not? A lot of folk can get up there nowadays. This needs input from manufacturers and a whole bunch of statistics, but good news if they’ve been having this chats this since 2021 so the results will hopefully be out soon.
- Flights above FL460: Or rather, the accommodation of ‘new entrants’ because operating ceilings are increasing and if those who can head up that high do, then this will make more room below for those who can’t. Reviews on this start from 2026.
Some comms related stuff:
- SATCOM takes over from HF: A migration to SATVOICE from HF voice is expected, partcularly since CPDLC works so well and SATVOICE is far more resilient now too. Currently 2 LRCS are required, with HF as one of them. This came into discussion in 2022 and they plan on a decision and implementation by 2026.
- Digital HF: Advancements in this are being made. Whether it means more robotic sounding HF comms, or possibly something more technical I am not sure, but watch out between 2026-2031 for this one.
- Space based VHF: Apparently already a thing. Is my voice bouncing off satellites? How is that different to SATVOICE? Are they just making things up now?
- Space based VHF: Sorry, that long pause was while I went and read up about this. Turns out, the first trial was in July 2023 and it was a success. They hope to have it functioning from 2026ish do an mybe see it on the NAT from around then too.
- To use VHF currently, you need to be within range of a ground based station (knew that already)
- Space based VHF utilises satellites
- Here’s a report on it because I still don’t really understand it
Some other users related stuff:
- Other users: Balloons, UAS, UTM are expected to be considered for entry from around 2026.
What to look out for
Well, right now GNEs – Gross Navigation Errors – because these are still occurring too often and need to improve. Lecture over, here are the things to read now:
- NAT Doc 007: Everything you need to know for operating NOW is covered in here
- NAT Ops Bulletins: ICAO keep an updated list of current ones here
- Space weather forecasts: Because you need to have a heads-up if your HF might not be working
- Your MEL: So you know what equipment you need/have prior to entry
- Eurocontrol NOP: The portal is often the nest place to find info on things like military exercises which might impact your NAT crossing planning
- NOTAMs: Yep, goes without saying. Watch out for AIP SUPs too.
- Weather: Particularly important if you’re ETOPSing.
Things to read soon:
- The new NAT DOC 007: Changes for 2024 will be probably be published officially in March 2024, but there is a major ICAO NAT Forum taking place October 24-25 2023, so watch out for publications following that.
Things to read when you feel like it:
- ICAO’s NAT 2030 Vision Overview: The presentation is available here if you’re keen for a better look.