The last few years have seen continuous growth in traffic in the North Atlantic, the busiest oceanic airspace in the world. This has required the North Atlantic Systems Planning Group (NAT SPG, the first established – 1965 Planning and Implementation Regional Group) together with States and air navigation service providers in the NAT Region to respond with innovation and adoption of various means of increasing airspace safety, capacity and efficiency, some of which are in the process of implementation while others are still being developed.

The main thrust has been in the area of data link, the adoption of which by aircraft operators has been expedited by the North Atlantic Data Link Mandate. This has seen a rapid rise in the proportion of aircraft equipped which has in turn allowed the gradual implementation of reduced separation minima while enhancing safety.

Another innovation, ADS B, has also shown promise, initially only in those parts of the region where land masses allow line of sight implementation such as the Faeroe Island/Iceland/Greenland corridor. The effort to implement a space based surveillance solution are however being watched with a great deal of interest.

The future combination of space based ADS B for surveillance and data link and satellite voice for communication promises to blur the lines between oceanic and continental air traffic management to the great benefit of aviation.

A key component of this vision for the future is the implementation of the Performance Based Communications and Surveillance (PBCS) concept, an initiative which will require a totally new paradigm for global information sharing between air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and regulators to facilitate use of performance data to support operational approvals.

In the arena of contingency planning the NAT and EUR Regions have agreed on a common Volcanic Ash Contingency Plan (VACP) which redefines the roles of the various actors as required by the new approach to volcanic hazards adopted by ICAO with the publication in November 2014 of a revised PANS/ATM.


The next meeting of the North Atlantic Systems Planning Group (NAT SPG/53) will take place in ICAO Paris Office from 26 to 30 June 2017.

Ásgeir Pálsson is the the Chairman NAT SPG and Director Air Navigation Services, ISAVIA, Iceland

This article was originally written for the ICAO EUR/NAT Office’s Newsletter (Issue 1) on May 2017. A full list of their newsletters can be found here