EXCLUSIVE: SDATS eyeing UK market after taking over remote operations at two Swedish airports

The announcement that the world’s first digital air navigation service provider will take over ATC at two Swedish airports was followed swiftly by the news that the same business is now turning its attention to the UK airport market.

Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions (SDATS), a joint-venture between Saab and LFV, will take over responsibility for air traffic control of the Swedish airports of Örnsköldsvik and Sundsvall-Timrå from 1 January.

The two have jointly developed an operational concept, centred on providing remotely operated air traffic control to multiple airports from a single command centre in Sundsvall.

While SDATS’ move to assumes air navigation services responsibilities at both Swedish airports for at least the next six years means that it will become the first digital ANSP, it is now making clear that it is also targeting the only market that is completely open to competition – the United Kingdom.

Only a few countries such as Sweden, Germany and Spain have any competition at all and the UK is the most competitive environment in Europe by a considerable margin.

Although the market for terminal air navigation services in the UK has been liberalised since 1985, changes of service providers at major airports such as Gatwick to the wholly-owned subsidiary of Germany’s DFS group ANS or Birmingham that elected to self-supply have only been seen in more recent years.

At a remote tower conference organised by SDATS at Cranfield in the United Kingdom, Johan Klintberg, its chief executive, announced that the business was indeed targeting the development of a digital ANSP for the UK airport market through offering a digitised ATS business model with 24/7 availability.

SDATS confirmed to Air Traffic Management that it was in discussions with more than one airport in UK, but that discussions were still at an early stage.

“Our chief executive has said that we are discussing a model includes a 24/7 operational availability including possibilities for financing of the digital technology required for operation and last but not least the access to the large pool of professional air traffic controllers, from a centre operation,” said a spokesman for the business.

Earlier this year, ATC training academy Entry Point North and SDATS formed a strategic partnership to develop digital tower training courses which would include controller selection.

Industry insiders confided that the UK airport which has had discussion with SDATS is a privately-owned facility in the south east of England focussed on managing around 150 daily general and business aviation flights.

“It’s easy enough to draw parallels with the Swedish announcement and Swedish model with the UK announcement. The Stockholm remote tower centre has space for up to 24 airports and they only have a few still so you might infer that if they were doing it that remotely they’d not need a UK ANSP – which leads one to suspect that there is a plan to establish a UK remote tower centre,” said one industry insider.