Published on March 22nd, 2021 | by Mark Dwyer


First Day with Zero Westbound North Atlantic Tracks

In February we published this article that outlined how NATS planned to trial new procedures on the North Atlantic. Each day up to twelve tracks are created west and eastbound known as the Organised Track Structure (OTS). These are designed to try and take advantage of the day’s Jet Stream activity and give the airlines the most efficient route across the ocean, based on the information available 12 hours prior to their start time. The tracks provide a predictable operating environment for both ATC and aircraft operators, but the concept has changed very little since its inception.

The OTS as it appeared on 18 March 1973 and on the same day in 2019 (via NATS)

Tuesday 9th March marked the first day that Westbound North Atlantic Tracks were not published and airlines were free to file flight plans based on real-time weather and aircraft performance. This was the first time in decades that no tracks were published.

Traditionally, aircraft follow the tracks at pre-agreed speeds and flight levels in order to allow Shanwick and Gander, to keep them safely apart in an environment without any radar coverage. Since 2019, Aireon’s ADS-B has given controllers radar style real-time surveillance over the ocean for the first time and has permitted significantly reduced separation standards. The current low level of traffic on the Atlantic has also allowed the trial to take place sooner than planned.

OTS Tracks Nil recorded on 9 March 2021 (via NATS)

More “OTS Nil” days are planned over the coming weeks and months with a consultation following with airlines on how the trial has impacted their operations. Jacob Young Manager Operational Performance at NATS said in a recent blog post “What’s especially pleasing is that we did not receive a single query from our airline customers. Not a single pilot question or phone call clarifying what was expected from them.”

“Right now, it’s hard to foresee how this will turn out. Where will our customers see the greatest benefit? In the predictable nature of OTS tracks, allowing flights to be cleared at the pilot requested flight level and (adjusted) route more often? Or will the benefits relating to free routing outweigh that predictability and provide more overall efficiencies? Either way, the final decision will rest in the hands of our airline customers, who will tell us the direction they want us to guide this initiative in the future.”

You can read the full blog post here.

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About the Author

Mark is an airline pilot flying the Boeing 737 for a major European airline. In addition he is also a Type Rating Instructor, Type Rating Examiner and Base Training Captain on the B737. Outside of commercial flying Mark enjoys flying light aircraft from the smallest 3 Axis microlights up to heavier singles. He is also an instructor and EASA Examiner on single engines and a UK CAA Examiner. He flies the Chipmunk for the Irish Historic Flight Foundation (IHFF). Mark became the Chairman of the National Microlight Association of Ireland (NMAI) in 2013 and has overseen a massive growth in the organisation. In this role he has worked at local and national levels. In 2015, Mark won ‘Upcoming Aviation Professional Award’ at the Aviation Industry Awards sponsored by the IAA. Mark launched this website back in 2002 while always managing the website, he has also been Editor and Deputy Editor of FlyingInIreland Magazine from 2005 to 2015.

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