Project Wren

Exploring automation and resilience in air traffic control

  • A partnership with the Open University
  • Project timeline: August 2021- December 2022

Project Wren is a collaborative project between the Open University and NATS which considers how we can introduce automation into our air traffic control operation whilst maintaining operational resilience and any other resilience factors which are important as a result of increased automation.  

Today Air traffic Controllers and support teams are primarily supported by ‘decision support tools’ which help them make decisions when managing traffic. As air traffic levels increase and new types of users enter the airspace, the number of decisions which air traffic controllers will need to make will also rise. The challenge is on NATS’ Research & Development (R&D) team to look at how we move towards a future where humans and machines work together as a team.  

In order to deliver any increased level of automation, it is important to ensure that any ‘human machine team’ has the capability to react to any deviations from typical operations. This will require our R&D team to understand which decisions should be left in human control and which decisions would be appropriate for a machine to make, all the time ensuring the overall system is resilient.  

Project Wren will support the introduction of automation by investigating resilience engineering concepts in air traffic control contexts. The project will explore which aspects of today’s operation could benefit from increased automation, and how operational responsibilities can be shared between human-machine teams so that resilience is maintained.  

The Open University brings a wealth of experience in resilience engineering to the project. NATS will provide operational use cases to allow resilience engineering to be applied in the air traffic control context. The project aims to create and deliver a framework which NATS can apply to future opportunities for automation.  

Potential benefits

Enhanced safety

Reduced workload

Increased capacity

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