NATS - Continuous Descent Campaign

Engaging Customers on Sustainability Award, Winner, 2015, Reaccredited 2016.

NATS' Continuous Descent Campaign has reduced aircraft noise, cut CO2 emissions and helped the aviation industry save money on fuel and reduce its environmental impact.

What the judges thought

  • This was a highly targeted, data-driven campaign which achieved impressive results in terms of fuel savings.
  • It is very commendable that NATS took the leadership position to fix an inefficient process, with the campaign taking root over time and achieving behaviour change.
  • NATS has managed to get 22 airports and eight airlines to collaborate, and there is a huge potential to scale up this campaign internationally.

Social, environmental and business impacts

  • Reduced aircraft noise for communities around airports, achieving 18,000 quieter arrivals in the last six months.
  • Saved unnecessary use of fuel, reduced demand for natural resources and saved costs.
  • Reduced climate impact by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Contributed towards a sustainable future for the aviation industry.
  • Enabled financial savings on fuel and CO2 reductions for airlines operating in UK airspace.
  • Demonstrated that the aviation industry is addressing its environmental impacts, with the UK aviation sector taking a global lead.

In brief

A smooth continuous descent, instead of a series of steps, results in quieter, more fuel-efficient landings, but requires extra effort from pilots and air traffic controllers.

Air traffic management company NATS’ Continuous Descent Campaign encouraged the use of these descents through a large scale communications campaign. Over 500 air traffic controllers and 7,000 pilots were engaged, 10,000 leaflets distributed and a Flight Profile Monitor Tool was developed to help airports monitor performance.

The campaign has resulted in 18,000 quieter arrivals over the last six months, reduced costs and CO2 emissions, and positioned the UK aviation sector as a global leader in addressing environmental impact.

The story in detail

NATS clearly demonstrated that using data and insight can genuinely drive a measurable and meaningful increase in awareness in sustainability, behavioural change and reduced fuel consumption with noise reduction.

- William Ostrom,
Corporate Communications Director, Kingfisher, Chair of judges
Air traffic management company NATS launched its Continuous Descent Campaign in July 2014 as part of a wider sustainability programme to reduce CO2. The campaign has set out to improve descents across the UK by 5% to deliver over 30,000 individual quieter flights, save around 10,000 tonnes CO2 and offer fuel savings worth around £2 million.

Continuous descents are where aircrafts remain in a smooth continuous descent profile instead of descending in a series of steps. This means an aircraft is higher above the ground and is quieter. It is also more fuel and environmentally efficient than a stepped descent.


Less noise and lower emissions from better planned descents

Achieving a smooth continuous descent requires extra effort from pilots and air traffic controllers as they need to liaise with each other to manage the aircraft’s speed, thrust and landing settings against external factors such as wind and air traffic routing requirements.

NATS has designed a bespoke tool called Flight Profile Monitor to help it, airports and airlines improve climb and descent performance. It is the only company in the world to produce information about continuous descent performance and share it with customers and stakeholders.

Communicating best practice to make aviation more sustainable

Before launching the Continuous Descent Campaign, NATS worked with two groups it chairs as part of the industry umbrella body Sustainable Aviation. It used these channels to establish initial points of contact in the airlines and airports and gain their formal agreement to participate.

It then spent several months developing communication materials to support the campaign, including a video, booklets and posters. These targeted air traffic approach controllers, pilots and airport environmental performance managers.

The four minute online video received 2,826 plays in the first three weeks, 50 pilot crew rooms displayed campaign posters and NATS distributed 10,000 booklets to pilots and controllers. More than 500 NATS controllers and 7,000 pilots received face to face briefings.

The Continuous Descent Campaign has reached beyond NATS’ own sphere of influence to encourage best practice across 15 Air Traffic Control Units, 23 airports and eight airlines. It has helped airlines reduce fuel consumption, cut costs and make their businesses more efficient and sustainable. It also helped reduce aircraft noise for communities around airports.

It also helps NATS achieve its sustainability goals, for which the company receives financial incentives from the industry regulators. The campaign plays a direct role in improving its scores and ensuring it avoids financial penalties.

What NATS' CEO said:                                                                                                           

“NATS has taken a proactive role in leading the Sustainable Aviation Continuous Descent campaign. We are reaching beyond our immediate sphere of responsibility to influence airlines and airports and encourage cleaner, quieter air transport.  By working together with airlines, airports and NATS controllers we are delivering tangible benefits in CO2 and noise reductions. The Continuous Descent campaign also directly complements NATS’ goals to improve to meet our 4% and 10% ATM CO2 reduction targets. So it’s win-win all around.” - Martin Rolfe, Chief Executive Officer NATS