Consider, too, the heightened responsibility that will be imposed on flight crews for enhanced situational awareness when these separation reductions go into effect. “The point is that, based on aircraft and ATC systems and other procedures, the separation standards are being ratcheted down,” the anonymous former regulator said. “So pilots must be aware that they won't have as much airspace to play with as they used to, and if they have to divert, they'll have to be on top of the contingency procedures and in [data link] communication with ATC. The future is not static in terms of separation.

“We're talking about a situation where, based on technology, separation can be reduced,” he continued. “This increases efficiency to manage aircraft, but it means they will be closer together. The future of the North Atlantic is that you're going to need satellite data link systems beyond 2015 in order to fly there. As we get closer to this mandate, everyone is going to have to be thinking about how they will execute the [emergency] contingency maneuver to get separation before making a turn back, if necessary.”

But consider also that while the North Atlantic may represent the busiest oceanic airspace on the planet, only 50% of the traffic flies on the NATS. “On a random routing 1 deg. north of the tracks, these procedures would still apply,” the ex-regulator said. “It may be 'random' but there still could be a lot of other airplanes in the vicinity — you can't assume that you're out there alone. You still need to take the offset from your cleared route if you experience an emergency. You could have an aircraft behind or in front of you — so remember that half of the traffic is off the track system.”

And here's a caveat about which all international operators should be aware: Once the ADS-C component of FANS is mandated, a controller will be watching. “In a non-radar environment,” the former regulator said, “way back when we were just beginning to talk about ADS and CPDLC, pilots would maneuver around weather and not inform ATC, but now with the new monitoring capabilities inherent in ADS technology, there is an automatic ATC alert when an aircraft deviates 5 nm from cleared track. It will make ATC aware of what's going on out there as never before . . . and it will be a revelation to the people on the ground that the airplanes don't always sit on the centerline of the track!” BCA