The North Atlantic is the busiest oceanic airspace in terms of air traffic in the world. The North Atlantic Systems Planning Group was created in 1965 by the Council of ICAO. The NAT SPG aims to achieve the highest level of safety performance and meet regional safety objectives in line with national and international standards, the Global Aviation Safety Plan (GASP) and the Global Air Navigation Plan (GANP).

The ICAO North Atlantic (NAT) Region continues to make excellent progress in the implementation of the ICAO Global Aviation Safety and Air Navigation Plans, as was concluded by the Fifty-Third Meeting of the North Atlantic Systems Planning Group (NAT SPG/53). Representatives from Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States, industry stakeholders, and international and regional organizations met in Paris, France, from 26 to 29 June 2017 to review its work programme to ensure that the North Atlantic aviation system continues to meet airspace users’ needs safely whilst taking into account changing traffic characteristics, technological advances and updated traffic forecasts.

Based on fleet analysis and business plans developed by the ICAO NAT SPG working groups, the annual near-term (20172021) air traffic growth in the NAT Region is projected to be around 5.3%. The following contributory factors were highlighted:

  • Rapid growth by some operators, such as Norwegian, Icelandair, RyanAir, and WOW;
  • Large orders by Middle East carriers;
  • Long-Range capabilities of 737-MAX, 321-LRs, and 787s; and
  • Growth by legacy carriers expected to increase significantly based on orders of A350s, A330s, B787s, A380s, and B777s.

Over the next 20 years, the NAT air traffic growth is projected to be about 3.6% annually.

Supported by the facilitation and coordination activities of the ICAO EUR/NAT Office, the NAT Region continues to make good progress towards the implementation of new operational enhancements and technological innovations to further improve safety, increase airspace capacity and reduce the environmental impact of civil aviation. These initiatives are supported by positive business and solid safety cases that demonstrate clear benefits for airspace users.

This NAT SPG meeting was marked by significant breakthroughs to enable the implementation of further improvements. One of them is the NAT plan to implement SpaceBased Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (SB ADS-B). The Space-Based ADS-B Business Case Assessment (BCA), developed by the NAT EFFG, based on the current NAT SB ADS-B Concept of Operations, indicates that implementation of reduced oceanic separation standards in conjunction with unrestricted climbs and speed changes, would present a positive business case over the time span from 2019 to 2033. Furthermore, potential benefits in terms of significant reduction in tactical conflicts gained through SB ADS-B implementation warrant further investigation.

The NAT Region, in coordination with the Asia Pacific (APAC) Region, is also moving towards the full implementation of performance-based reduced lateral and longitudinal separation by the end of March 2018. These separation minima are currently in the trial phase. It is expected that full implementation will increase capacity and optimise trajectories resulting in reduced fuel consumption and CO 2 emissions that would help to minimize the environmental impact of civil aviation.