NATS meets its target in 2012 to organise UK airspace to save planes wasting fuel

NATS – which provides air traffic navigation services for the UK – says it has met its target for 2012, in terms of organising airspace to minimise the amount of fuel burnt by aircraft, and hence their CO2 emissions.  Its scheme, called 3Di, aims to keep planes flying optimally in terms of both their height, the amount of level flight, and the distance they have to travel.  The ideal is for planes to land directly, on a straight line, coming down by continuous descent approach.  With the airspace over much of the  UK being some of the most crowded in the world, such an ideal is not always possible. Each flight gets a 3Di score, and then NATS gets a total score for the year.   If NATS meets a 3Di score each year of 24, it meets its requirements. If the score is over 27, it gets penalised.  If below 21, NATS gets bonuses. In 2012 its score was 23.9. 


NATS marks a year of greener skies

1.2.2013 (NATS website)

NATS is marking one year since delivering 3Di, its award winning tool which measures the environmental efficiency of air traffic, unlocking estimated savings of 600,000 tonnes of CO2 and £120 million of fuel by 2015.

Over the course of 2012, NATS’ 3Di score – as measured on a scale where zero equates to a ‘perfect flight’ – has been steadily improving, reflecting the range of environmental initiatives NATS has introduced to help save airlines fuel and minimise CO2 emissions.

The indexed 3Di score currently stands at 23.9 compared with 24.2 in January 2012.  This performance is in line with the Civil Aviation Authority’s estimated savings of 600,000 tonnes of CO2 and £120 million of fuel by 2015 – the equivalent to 2,000 flights from London to New York.

3Di works by comparing the trajectory and route an aircraft takes – from real radar data – with an optimal profile which would minimise fuel burn and CO2. This means it can measure the benefits delivered by air traffic control of a smooth, continuous descent or climb, cruise levels as requested by pilots, and the most direct point-to-point routeings.

Ian Jopson, NATS Head of Environment and Community Affairs, said: “A focus on sustainability is vital if our industry is going to be able to grow. That is why NATS has made 3Di one of its core performance measures. This year’s results show that focus is beginning to deliver results.”

“We’ve made good strides forward, but much more still needs to be done and we have a packed programme of activity for this year.”

The improvement in the 3Di score is a result of a number of technology and procedural changes NATS has pioneered over the past 12 months.

Increasing use of the next generation air traffic controller aid, iFACTS, is allowing controllers to better check an aircraft’s climb profile and allocate flights more closely to their fuel optimum levels.

Further improvements relate to the trial of a new system at Edinburgh Airport called Flight Profile Monitor which uses enhanced radar data to analyse the number of aircraft achieving continuous climbs and descents. That data then helps inform improvements in air traffic control performance and airline procedures.

The trial has seen 20% rise in the number of continuous decent approaches (CDA) – a performance that equates to yearly savings of 800 tonnes of CO2 and £165,000 in fuel.

Flight Profile Monitor recently won the Airport Operators Association prestigious ‘best environmental initiative’ award.

Find out more on our Environmental Reporting page.




This page

contains detail on how the 3Di system works.

Commentary on recent performance

3Di scores for the final quarter of 2012 complete the first year of use of this new regulated metric.  The par (target) value set by our regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority is 24 for the year.

The outturn score of 23.9 3Di points is below the target for the year, i.e. NATS has managed and operated UK domestic airspace more efficiently than called for by the challenging targets set by our regulator.

Chart 1: Full Year 3Di Performance - since January 2012 (click to enlarge)

Chart 1: Full Year 3Di Performance – since January 2012 (click to enlarge)

Chart 1 shows (above) our 3Di performance over the four quarters of 2012. Click the chart for a larger version.

The green line shows the average monthly 3Di scores. The blue line shows the 2012 rolling average 3Di score (this is the figure upon which we are tested against our regulated target).  The red line shows the average daily traffic movements for each month.  As agreed in advance with the CAA, 3Di performance over the course of the Olympic Games has been excluded from the overall scoring because of the temporary airspace arrangements and security restrictions that existed around London during the Games.  This exclusion period was agreed because the temporary arrangements could have generated 3Di results that were due more to those changes than to NATS’ efforts to improve airspace efficiency.

Commentary on End of Year 3Di Scores

Excluding the Olympic period the 3Di flight efficiency score was 23.9 against a target of 24.0 for 2012.  So our 3Di performance for this, the first year of its use as a regulatory metric, is marginally ahead of target for the year so far, ie NATS has managed and operated UK domestic airspace more efficiently than called for by the challenging targets set by our regulator.

Our Environmental Strategy

Our environmental strategy is based on delivering long term structural improvements to airspace efficiency, as well as focusing on a targeted programme of shorter term enhancements.

In the last financial year we delivered 26 specific near term changes to procedures to improve flight profiles and CO2 emissions. This coupled with a programme of increased awareness across the company of the need to improve airspace efficiency has contributed to the improvements.

An update to NATS 3Di performance will be published on this site in April 2013.