We talked to Mark Watson, Head of UTM Service Integration of NATS, about his vision on the industry challenges and involvement in GUTMA

What is NATS and what is its role and involvement within GUTMA?

NATS is the UK’s leading air navigation services organisation providing, under licence, en route air traffic management services over the UK and eastern North Atlantic, and air traffic control services at 14 major UK airports.

For a number of years NATS has recognised that flying in the future will look very different from the past, and the way our skies are managed will need to evolve.  That’s why we’ve been working with early innovators to support the growth of this exciting new generation of aviation by helping to enable their operations, and to understand more about the role ANSPs will play in supporting future operations.

As a member of GUTMA we’re hoping to gain further insight into those future operations from other members, and work together on the different workstreams to jointly define what that future should look like.

According to you, what are the biggest industry challenges at the moment?

The pace of innovation in uncrewed aviation has been so rapid that real-world flights and trials are now regularly taking place in live operational environments – a feat which seemed completely implausible not that long ago.

The downside to that rapid pace of innovation is that standards and regulations have a lot of catching up to do.  Evolution of the regulatory framework and other regulated parts of the ecosystem, like airspace, will be crucial to finding a sustainable solution, along with harmonised standards for operators to follow. 

Those real-world flights are taking place in either testbed environments, or in restricted ‘temporary danger areas’ which can be extremely difficult to secure in the first place.  This arrangement has absolutely served a purpose and has enabled the sector to develop and grow to such a point that it has now outgrown those constraints.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, but the challenge now is for industry to work together with policy makers and regulators to jointly evolve a sustainable regulatory framework that enables that next phase of evolution for the industry, and to do that before the current modus operandi stifles further growth.

A word about the need to be working along the full ecosystem/value-chain?

If the benefits of uncrewed aviation are to be realised, integration and collaboration across the whole ecosystem, including ATM and UTM, existing and new airspace users, will be crucial. 

This is at the heart of our vision for aviation services in the future, and we’re excited to work with other GUTMA members to evolve this ecosystem to suit the airspace demands of different environments.  We want to provide services to all airspace users, not just existing ones, and help to ensure consumers of drone-based services are able to reap the full benefits of those services as the result of an integrated aviation ecosystem.


I’ve worked for NATS for 30 years, originally joining as an engineer and spending much of my career in research and development of new technologies and air traffic management techniques. 

For the last 7 years I’ve been working in the uncrewed aviation space as Head of UTM Service Integration, working with early innovators in the uncrewed sector to help get them flying and to learn how NATS operations need to evolve to integrate them sustainably into the airspace. I’m also a founding member of GUTMA and served on its board for the first 3 years, so I’m looking forward to being involved again.


NATS is the UK’s leading air navigation services organisation providing, under licence, en route air traffic management services over the UK and eastern North Atlantic from centres at Swanwick, Hampshire and Prestwick, Ayrshire.  We are also contracted to provide air traffic control services at 14 major UK airports and operate in over 30 countries around the world.

NATS is alive to the opportunities that new airspace users present for airspace in the future and has worked closely with early innovators.  Safety is always our number one priority, and we are working with increasing intensity to support the growth of this exciting new industry by safely integrating new users into a sustainable, modernised and fully integrated airspace.

For more information visit the NATS website at www.nats.aero