NATS proposes monopoly and opens door to charging

Nats globe

The CAA’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy was generally well received by General Aviation. Many suggested that the devil would be in the detail, and this is perhaps the beginning of that detail discovery process. 

NATS has published a consultation on the provision of something called OpenAir. It is a proposal for a service that will deliver the CAA’s airspace modernisation and integrate new airspace users such as delivery drones and eVTOL services.

NATS is basically proposing that it creates a monopoly service that obliges participation from service providers.

The proposal also sets out the intention for a ‘user pays’ funding model. This could lead to General Aviation pilots being forced to pay for a service created by NATS to facilitate the needs of new airspace users, ie the drone industry.

In turn, this could mean that user rather than beneficiary pays. Given a monopoly provider with the cost structure of NATS, what is currently free in more or less the entire world could be very expensive in the UK.

Participating Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) would be required by NATS to make movement data accessible to the system.  It’s likely that the ANSPs would follow NATS’ lead and charge users.

The consultation suggests that drone/eVTOL users would submit intention of flight notifications that would be approved based presumably on utilisation levels in Class G airspace. This could suggest that such notifications (flight plans?) would also have to be submitted prior to each GA flight.

Given the principle of equitable access to airspace, that might come to mean permission would be required for individual GA flights too, and that has the potential to turn class G into something quite different.

The document sets out the timetable for the consultation that culminates in a final NATS proposal being submitted to the CAA in Q2 of 2025.


In response to a question asked by Pete Stratten, CEO of the British Gliding Association, NATS stated:

“It’s important to note that as part of the OpenAir consultation, NATS does not plan to charge airspace users for air traffic services in integrated airspace.

“Similarly, we do not propose to manage any more airspace than we already do, and through NATS OpenAir we do not propose to introduce any new areas of controlled airspace.

“NATS envisage a time when all airspace, including Class G, is integrated and respects the right of GA to operate autonomously as defined by flight rules within Airspace Class E, F, & G in that integrated future.

“The aim of the proposal is to provide a universal data sharing and network management function to the growing number of air navigation service providers to enable this integration – those service providers would bear the cost of the NATS OpenAir service, the regulatory framework for which would need to be determined by the CAA.

“In developing the NATS OpenAir proposal, our aim has been to provide the much-needed clarity sought by the industry and define a framework in which all stakeholders can innovate with confidence, while protecting the crucial rights and access of existing airspace users.

“It’s also important to note that we want to work with the industry, and key stakeholders like the BGA, to develop the proposal in further detail.

“We intend to spend much of this year consulting with all corners of the aviation network to gather feedback, insights and recommendations on the NATS OpenAir concept to ensure a fair and equitable environment for all operators, new and existing.”


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