World leaders in Air Traffic Management, NATS specialises in providing navigation services to aircraft flying through UK controlled airspace and at several UK and international airports.
Formerly known as National Air Traffic Services Limited, as part of the organisation’s systematic infrastructure upgrade, it recently developed three ‘Space’ facilities, linking its Corporate and Technical Centre at Fareham with the nearby Air Traffic Control Centre at Swanwick and Prestwick Centre in Scotland.
In each new Space, identically configured Christie MicroTiles monitor walls are enabling NATS to prototype and develop new solutions and ATC tools before they enter operational service. Thanks to the Christie solution, this can now be done dynamically, in a real-time, collaborative environment that would not have been possible previously.
Outlining the brief, Mark Race, Head of Space Innovation Services, confirms, “Part of the requirement for this innovation centre was the capability to demonstrate prototypes and create visual impact by enabling personnel to engage in a unique way.”
NATS’ project team discovered Christie MicroTiles during their quest for a flexible system that would display multiple sources in high definition. Having contacted the manufacturer, Christie hosted a demo at its EMEA HQ in Berks, where the NATS representatives were presented with various options.
One of the team representatives, Rob Langan, notes that in identifying the procurement principles they had set some key requirements. “For example, it was essential that the viewing experience across the display was virtually seamless — and MicroTiles offered this, since the bezels measure just 1mm.”
NATS also looked at matrix walls and rearpro cube walls, but because of the superior resolution, flexibility and software of MicroTiles — along with the seamless viewing — this became their preferred option. “The display is conveniently built into the fascias so we won’t look to change the configuration,” continues Langan. “However, what we have is very much a blank canvas so we can reshape the windows within it, and make it what we like.”
In addition, he says, the walls enable slick display of multiple sources and data as required. With similarly configured 8 x 6 curved videowalls in each Centre, operatives are able to display 2K x 2K data onto the wall from the ATC controller positions, as well as take 1080p and 800 x 600 data feeds.
Furthermore, this data can be shared from their monitors via the MicroTiles wall — thanks to the deployment of a Christie Spyder X20-1608 (16-in / 8-out) image processor at each site. These interfaces switch the signals, enabling picture-in-picture style presentation — while a series of 28 x 8 matrix switches extend the input capability. States Mark Race, “This elegant solution enables us to take our prototypes and simply route them to other destinations via the Spyder.”
In fact this versatile video processor acts as a universal routing switcher, with the capability of simultaneous, real-time, full frame rate monitoring of all inputs.
Each of the three facilities allows up to 20 people to interact in a simulated ATC environment — connected together over a WAN network, with each space viewable from the other facilities, while the ability to host WebEx meetings and video conferencing allows external participants, not present in the room, to take part.
By working with stakeholders, requirements can now be developed more quickly, and this can drive lower development costs from suppliers. “It will also allow ‘plug and play’ of new technology to enable suppliers to market their new tools,” states Rob Langan.
WIth video conferencing installed throughout the estate, NATS has been able to increase collaboration between its sites while reducing the environmental impact of travelling, according to Mark Race. “The ability to share data for Space activities or host inter-site virtual meetings is a huge advantage. PC, video, data files and video conferencing can be shared simultaneously — and every source we have can be displayed on the videowall.”
While MicroTiles has provided the three facilities with a high degree of flexibility and visual acuity, NATS is also reassured by the system’s ease of service, low cost maintenance — and reconfigurability, should it be required.
Summarises Mark Race, “Above all, the speed with which we can replicate what the controller sees, and overlay bits of data to show what it would be like even before it’s integrated into the main simulation software, is paramount — and it can all be done quickly.
“We can experience a simulation, see things we couldn’t previously in a real life environment, assess the results simultaneously in high definition — and make a decision in real time. We’ve never had that capability before.”