An Intelligent Approach to improving the passenger experience

No matter how luxurious the lounges, tempting the restaurants or spectacular the shopping, a good passenger experience always sits on a foundation of consistent, predictable operational performance.

While investments in new runways and terminals will always grab the headlines, the world’s leading airports and ANSPs understand the necessity of investing in the invisible infrastructure – the airspace – and how it is managed.

Airports, no matter how many runways they have, are only ever as efficient as the airspace that supports them, the controllers who manage it, and the tools and technologies they have at their disposal. The invisible infrastructure must be just as ready to deliver against the airport’s growth ambitions as any new eye-catching developments on the ground.

To help understand the effectiveness of the visible and the invisible infrastructure, NATS uses a process we call ACE – Airport Capacity Enhancement. It’s a process we’ve used at a number of busy, ambitious airports around the world and often requires the creation of a ‘digital twin’ of the airport and its surrounding airspace to enable fast-time simulation.

The study involves a root and branch review of an airport operation leading to a roadmap that looks at how a combination of improvements to procedures, modes of operation, use of airspace, and the deployment of new technologies (to name but a few), will help unlock its full potential without the need for spades in the ground.  We continue to support leading ANSPs and airports alike with important studies being conducted at major airports in Saudi Arabia, UAE, and recently in Canada, Austria, and Turkey.


Intelligent Approach “is the biggest step we have made for the airline customers over the last years especially with regards to punctuality” – Michiel van Dorst, Chief Executive of LVNL


Technologies like Intelligent Approach are key here, helping airports to maximise the value of what they already have. The only true Time Based Separation tool available in the industry today, Intelligent Approach was developed jointly by NATS and Leidos and quickly helps airports to make the very most of their airspace and runways. This allows them to improve throughput, predictability, on time performance and, as a result, the passenger experience.

Time Based Separation works by dynamically calculating the optimum time between arrivals based on aircraft size and type, and perhaps most importantly uses live wind data, uniquely calculated directly from each aircraft on final approach.  These time-based gaps are then translated into markers on a controller’s radar screen, with their role to then line up each arrival as close to the marker as possible.

By dynamically calculating the spacing between aircraft based on real-time local conditions rather than relying on set distances, Intelligent Approach helps airports to maximise the capacity of their runways and optimise the flow of aircraft into the airport, thereby improving on-time performance.

At Schiphol Airport, LVNL are using Intelligent Approach to increase landing capacity by up to 3-6 additional aircraft per hour, per runway. That’s an enormous benefit being achieved without the need for any new equipment or infrastructure investment at the airport.

We are also seeing huge benefits in environmental performance with Heathrow recording an annual reduction of over 230,000 minutes of airborne holding equating to a saving of up 47,000 tons of CO2 per year. In fact, at Heathrow alone, benefits have surpassed customer expectations with overall savings in excess of €50m per year.

The most forward-thinking airport operators and ANSPs know that a great passenger experience means delivering a safe, predictable, and resilient operation every single day. Those already putting that understanding into action will be in the best position to succeed and fulfil their ambitions over the coming years.