Who are Nats? Inside the Hampshire-based air traffic control company that keeps Britain's skies safe

A controller works to keep Britain's sky safe. Credit: ITV Meridian

Thousands of people have suffered delays or cancellations to flights in the last 48 hours, following a glitch at ATC provider National Air Traffic Services (Nats).

The company, which is based in Swanwick in Hampshire, suffered what is described as a 'technical issue' yesterday morning, which prevented it from automatically processing flight plans.

This resulted in the number of flights being restricted while the plans were checked manually, leading more than a quarter of flights at UK airports to be cancelled.

Nats said at 3.15pm on Monday the problem was resolved, but disruption continued into Tuesday as many aircraft and crews were out of position.

The company describes itself as the leading provider of air traffic control services in the UK and ITV Meridian was given access inside the control centre in June of this year - to see what it was really like to manage Britain's skies.

Controllers guide planes across our airspace. Credit: ITV Meridian

The company handles over 2.5 million flights and 250 million passengers travelling over the UK and across the North Atlantic each year.

Nats employers air traffic controllers who go through extensive three year training programme from initial entry to becoming fully operational.

They are trusted to guide planes across Britian's airspace, and also manage airports, including London City.

Each controller can manage dozens of planes each hour, as up to 6,000 planes fly overhead.

It is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority, who regularly inspect and work with Nats to ensure passenger safety in the air.

Controllers manage London City Airport from Hampshire. Credit: ITV News Meridian

UK Airspace is divided into three Flight Information Regions (FIR); London, Scottish and Shanwick Oceanic.

The London FIR covers England and Wales, whilst the The Scottish FIR covers Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Shanwick Oceanic FIR covers a region of airspace totalling 700,000 square miles over the North East Atlantic.

Swanwick handles the London region and Shanwick Ocean regions, and any aircraft flying in controlled airspace must follow instructions from Air Traffic Controllers.

ITV News Meridian was invited to the Swanwick offices in June this year.

Following yesterday's technical issues, which was the worst incident of its kind in “nearly a decade”, it has been announced an “independent review” will be carried out.

Travel disruption could last for days and people are being urged to check before they travel.

On Monday Juliet Kennedy, operations director at Nats, said the issue meant the automatic system that provides controllers with details of every aircraft and its route had stopped working, and what happened will be investigated “very thoroughly”.

She also apologised for the impact on people’s travel plans.

Ms Kennedy added: “The issue we had earlier meant that our automatic system, which provides controllers with details of every aircraft and its route, wasn’t working. Instead, to manage safety, we had to limit the number of flights we could manage.

A map showing the regions that Nats controls Credit: Nats

“Our teams worked hard to resolve the problem, and I’m pleased to say it was fixed earlier on this afternoon. However, it will take some time for flights to return to normal.

“And we will continue to work with the airlines and the airports to recover the situation. Our absolute priority is safety and we will be investigating very thoroughly what happened today.

“Again, I would like to apologise for the impact on the travelling public and to tell you that our teams will continue to work to get you on your way as soon as we can.”

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