“Managing Motorways in the Sky”.  John Wheal is Born to Engineer.

“Managing Motorways in the Sky”. John Wheal is Born to Engineer.


When I was at school We had to complete two weeks work experience As part of that I went to Stansted Airport When you see an airport You just see the planes taking off and landing You don’t see anything behind the scenes The baggage areas All the logistics of how you can move people to the gate That was the first time I’d ever really seen anything like that So I went home and started programming a basic departure board That side of things always interested me I joined NATS on their engineering graduate scheme NATS is the UK’s leading air-traffic control provider It handles over 2.4 million flights per year That equates to over 260 million passengers We often describe it as almost motorways in the sky The engineering systems that underpin it are absolutely safety critical If you can’t talk to a plane, you can’t see the plane Then a controller is pretty much useless And that’s where I fit in My particular job title is actually systems engineer We’re building and designing the new systems We see the future of air traffic control at airports To be the digital tower With the advances in modern day technology What we’re able to do is move the controllers from a physical tower Into somewhere remote The digital tower takes a
360-degree live video feed And condenses it down So that means that controllers can
see from one side of the airport And even what’s going on behind them Just turning their head There are microphones all around the airport Which pick up the sound So they can feel like they’re in a tower They get to zoom in on the screen See an overlay of what all the planes are Get to see where the runway ends Which is particularly useful if you’ve got low visibility My particular role is working on the foundation Of a brand new cloud computing platform Where we will be running all the air traffic management applications It’s almost like a jigsaw We’re having to put all the different pieces together The flight data processor Voice Radar Getting all of these different parts Integrated to make a final finished system A lot about engineering is about solving problems The idea of being able to create something from nothing Something that is meaningful and useful It’s the engineers that have to sign off To say that something is safe I get a lot of satisfaction For knowing that the systems that I’ve helped to build Are keeping people safe in the sky

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