National Air Traffic Services (NATS) is a UK-based air navigation service provider responsible for managing and controlling the safe and efficient movement of aircraft in UK airspace. NATS plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety and coordination of air traffic. This includes helping aircraft take off, land and navigate through the airspace, while minimising the risk of collisions and optimising flight routes.

The project

Teaming up with the SPARCK team at BJSS, NATS embarked on an eight-week project to fast-track their environmentally-friendly product concepts. Through workshops, market analysis, and customer insights, two standout concepts emerged; Greener Ground and the Green Aviation Index.

Greener Ground offers zero-emission ground operations for airports worldwide, while the Green Aviation Index provides benchmarking and performance insights for sustainable aviation. This collaboration not only advances NATS' sustainability goals but also showcases its commitment to innovation and customer value.

The challenge

As part of its strategy to become carbon negative by 2040, NATS set a goal of launching one ‘earth-friendly’ product within the 2023/2024 financial year. NATS recognised the importance of fostering sustainable product development and sought to conceptualise environmentally-friendly products that would enable future innovation in sustainability. In order to achieve this goal, NATS required environmental product proposals to present to its senior leadership board by December 2023.

NATS had a number of existing products that could be built upon, and ideas that could be fast tracked into conceptualisation. However, the company required external support to evaluate these existing opportunities, and to identify and test new ones. They needed to acquire thorough understanding of market sustainability needs, to create a shortlist of preferred concepts that could be brought to life through prototypes and wireframes, and presented as commercial proposals.

The solution

NATS partnered with SPARCK, the design and innovation consultancy arm of BJSS, to run an eight-week lean project, swiftly delivering product concept proposals within this short timeframe.

In the project's initial week, SPARCK conducted a workshop with NATS to ensure a thorough grasp of requirements, and defining a clear definition of success. One facet of the workshop specifically concentrated on clarifying NATS' interpretation of 'earth-friendly', with the term being defined as:

“A service that enables our customers to deliver a positive impact in one or more of the core focus areas for sustainability improvements in the aviation industry: emissions reduction, resource management and reducing impact on local environments.”

Metrics were established to assess all products and ideas. Alongside sustainability metrics, success metrics were based on uniqueness, NATS business value, customer value and growth enablement. The clear goals and metrics were critical in guiding decision making and short-listing throughout, with SPARCK carrying out market analysis and ecosystem mapping.

SPARCK identified and prioritised opportunities by meticulously mapping market demands against the unique capabilities and portfolio of NATS. The development and validation of ideas was done through customer testing and technical discovery, ensuring the value and feasibility of these ideas.

Stakeholder engagement and the gathering of customer insights was a priority for the SPARCK team. Workshops and customer interviews resulted in a richer understanding of customer needs to deliver market-leading product concepts. Preferred concepts were translated into detailed product proposals, each of which included a comprehensive business case, conceptual architecture, visually appealing representations, and compelling value propositions.

In evaluating the ‘earth friendliness’ of concepts, SPARCK drew on the knowledge of sustainability experts within NATS, alongside policy research to consider the extent to which each concept aligned with aviation sustainability roadmaps (including IATA and UK Jet Zero). They also considered how far these supported changing mindsets and behaviours as opposed to supporting solely efficiency-based initiatives. Concepts which drew upon NATS’ leading analytical expertise to help with the challenge of interpreting data and guiding decisions were scored highly.

As always, the SPARCK team worked collaboratively to provide optimal outcomes. Daily meetings with NATS helped with team cohesion, and weekly planning meetings optimised the project time management.

The outcome

The collaboration between NATS and SPARCK resulted in two unique product concepts being developed and shortlisted for approval within just eight weeks. The accelerated approach to concept development, led to the two validated product concepts being created, complete with visuals, business models, MVP roadmaps and technical feasibility frameworks.

“The team showed a genuine passion for the project and an infectious energy that kept the everyone motivated. The integration of the SPARCK/BJSS and NATS teams was fast and seamless – it felt like one team from week one.”

(Nick Charlton, Concept Delivery Technical Lead, NATS)

The project highlighted positive outcomes that can be adapted for future projects. By embracing this journey with SPARCK, NATS not only advanced their earth-friendly product development capability but also their internal processes, collaboration, and customer-centric focus. They implemented a swift approach to innovation, yielding significant benefits.

Collaboration across the organisation improved as a result of this project. NATS gained positive stakeholder engagement and buy-in with the product concepts, namely Greener Ground and the Green Aviation Index, and set out a bold vision of how NATS can be a catalyst for meeting aviation sustainability goals.

Greener Ground offers a technology-driven end-to-end solution for airports worldwide, addressing the challenges of inefficient airfield use, emissions, and staff exposure to aircraft emissions. The comprehensive turnkey approach includes a clear roadmap for achieving zero-emissions ground operations. Leveraging advanced algorithms, processes are optimised through electric vehicle adoption, operational streamlining, and sustainable fuel strategies.

The solution enhances staff wellbeing, reduces emissions and noise, providing a competitive edge. Greener Ground contributes to environmentally-friendly practices, emphasising efficiency, reduced noise, and a blueprint for future zero-emission expansion.

The Green Aviation Index aims to lead Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) towards sustainable aviation by offering global benchmarking and performance insights. It facilitates collective improvements through independently verified benchmarks, advanced analytics, and configurable Key Performance Indicator (KPI) tracking.

Air Navigation Service Providers benefit from collaboration through a partnership hub that shares best practices. The index addresses the lack of baseline metrics for flight emissions management and expensive improvement initiatives. NATS provides a solution with real-time data, trends, and insights, promoting continuous improvement and assisting in sustainability KPI tracking.

The outcomes of the project stand as a testament to NATS’ commitment to innovation and its unwavering dedication to delivering value to their customers and the environment. NATS effectively leveraged customer insights to refine and strengthen its product concepts. These were aligned with market needs and preferences and designed to meet its commitment, as set out in the NATS 2040 strategy, to be a driving force in efforts to tackle ‘the climate emergency’.

Whichever concept is approved and launched into the market will challenge established behaviours and elevate NATS' standing as a trailblazer in sustainability within the industry. For the third year running, NATS has been named as one of Europe’s Climate Leaders in the 2023 listing compiled by the Financial Times & Statista.