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A day in the life of NATS

The National Air Traffic Service (NATS) provides air traffic control services at Glasgow Airport where it handles more than 80,000 flights every year.  On a wider level, the company provides services at 14 UK airports, handling 2.2 million flights and 220 million passengers in UK airspace. NATS also works in more than 30 countries around the world spanning Europe, the Middle East, Asia and North America.

In this blog we speak to NATS’ deputy watch manager at Glasgow Airport, Alistair Stewart, to find out a little more about what it’s like to work for NATS, and why he gets out of bed in the morning.


Name and job title?

Alistair Stewart, Deputy Watch Manager at Glasgow Airport.


What does a typical day involve?

I arrive for my shift 30 minutes early to ensure I’m up to speed on current weather conditions, the air traffic situation and what equipment requires serviced.  I begin my day by writing a daily break plan, which includes details of the appropriate roles needed to meet traffic demand whilst making sure each controller has the required breaks. I’ll also factor in any training, paperwork and projects my colleagues need to complete. On a typical shift I spend four to five hours controlling traffic and two hours on a break or doing admin work. Each shift is different and the variety is one of the best parts of the job.


What is your favourite aircraft and why?

Concorde. I studied Aeronautical Engineering at The University of Glasgow prior to joining NATS and that gave me an appreciation of just how advanced Concorde was. It was decades ahead of its time, and hopefully one will fly again.  In terms of aircraft that is currently flying, my favourite has to be the 777-300ER which Emirates bring into Glasgow twice a day– it’s so elegant and graceful.


What do you enjoy most about working at Glasgow Airport?

The diverse mix of aircraft we have. Not many airports will have a 747 or 777 followed by a Twin Otter or Grob Tutors and Cessna 172s trying to do circuits in between movements. It keeps me on my toes. Also, the weather is very diverse - you can have four seasons in one shift. I grew up in Bishopton and spent most of my childhood passing by the airport on the way to nursery or on the M8. I love working at Glasgow Airport for all of these reasons.


What has been the biggest challenge of your career?

Probably getting through the NATS recruitment process. Around 10,000 people apply each year but only 100 are successful. After that you have to get through the college training and unit training to validate your license – it’s been a great achievement to get here.


Has there been one highlight working at Glasgow?

Definitely. In April 2014 Emirates flew in the world’s largest aircraft - an A380 - to mark the airline’s 10th anniversary of serving Glasgow. I was involved in the project from an ATC perspective and to see everything come together was very satisfying. I hope that the A380 will make a more regular appearance in the future.


Tell us an interesting fact about working at NATS

The tower building at Glasgow is supposedly haunted – I’ve experienced strange noises and lights turning themselves on and off before. Very spooky.


What skills do you require for the job?   

Excellent communication as well as the ability to stay calm and focused under pressure. A good memory and sound judgement are also key elements for the role.

If you could fly anywhere in the world where would you go and why?

Top of my list is Sint Maarten in the Caribbean because of the beach at the end of the runway at Princess Juliana International Airport.