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Fuelling a change

NATS, is the main air navigation service provider in the United Kingdom.

It provides en-route air traffic control services to flight information regions within both the UK and the Shanwick Oceanic Control Area, as well as supplying air traffic control services to 14 UK airports.

The Challenge

Aviation fuel is the second biggest cost airlines face. Burning it is also a source of CO2. So, reduce an airline’s fuel-burn, and everybody benefits.

One strategy to reduce fuel-burn is to optimise flight patterns. With this in mind, NATS developed Flight Profile Monitor (FPM). This tool tracks aircraft performance throughout flights and recommends the most fuel-efficient flight path.

FPM reflected NATS’ commitment to the environment. However, there was also a commercial imperative. If the FPM service could reduce an airline’s second biggest cost, it surely had commercial value.

To explore the potential for FPM whilst at a conceptual stage and guide the ‘go-to-market’ strategy, NATS engaged Savanta. The brief comprised three questions:

• Should we invest further in developing the concept?
• If so, who should our target market be – airlines, airports or someone else?
• What direction should we take in translating concept to product?

Our approach

At this early stage of development, an exploratory approach was essential. We conducted a series of in-depth, hour-long, one-on-one interviews with senior environmental and operational roles (e.g. Environment Director, Operations Director, Head of Climate Change) in airlines and airports across Europe and North America. In parallel we analysed the competitive set, so the concept could be assessed in a wider context.

The interviewing process explored a variety of topics, to allow for a holistic assessment of the concept’s potential including the business needs the concept would address; current solutions used for a similar purpose and disappointments with these; feedback on the concept and the likelihood of purchase.

The findings were revealing, but not necessarily what NATS had hoped to hear. The FPM concept was generally well-received, but it didn’t seem commercially viable:

• Similar tools were already in place. These weren’t positioned as environmental solutions, but essentially achieved the same goal. FPM improved on these solutions in some areas but had weaknesses elsewhere
• There was debate over who was responsible for CO2 emissions at different flight stages and therefore who should pay for the tool (airlines or airports)
• It was expected that, as the controller of flight paths, NATS would optimise them as a matter of course

All-in-all, FPM was felt to be a useful tool but not something which would be paid for. Whilst the news was disappointing, it prevented significant sums being wasted in a commercial launch.

The research also revealed a new opportunity. FPM could have a positive impact on relationships – providing it as part of their standard service would position NATS as a true partner and endorse their commitment to the environment.

The outcome

The research led NATS to pursue a different path. Rather than develop FPM as a commercial venture, it would be developed to build closer relationships with the air transport community.

The impact of this can already be seen, NATS has saved airlines arriving in Ireland from the North Atlantic 1,300 tonnes of fuel per year, worth over £800,000. As a result, the Airport Operators’ Association recognised FPM’s achievements by awarding NATS with the 2012 Best Environmental Initiative award.