Millions of British people fly in and out of the UK every year - especially over the summer when people up and down the country escape the UK's erratic weather and head to warmer climes. But while most of us look forward to the prospect of boarding a flight to jet off on holiday, few people enjoy living under a major flight path. That's why we're making changes to improve the way decisions about flight path changes are made and why we want to hear your views on how this new process will work.
Imagine that the UK's airspace - the sky above our heads - looks like a road map. There are major motorways, 30,000 feet up in the air. There is a series of “A” roads, which aircraft follow between these motorways and the airports from which they arrive and depart. And there are “B” roads which criss-cross the UK at a lower level.
If and when an airport or air traffic control wants to make a change to the design of this airspace - because they want to use it more efficiently or allow planes to use the equivalent of a car satnav, for example - it is their responsibility to establish the pros and cons of that change both for airspace users (airlines or light aircraft users) and for the people on the ground. The Government sets the framework for how airspace should be used and it is the CAA's job to decide whether or not a change to that airspace design can go ahead.
Two years ago, we started consulting with overflown communities, airspace users, airports and air traffic control to make sure that we have the right decision-making process in place; a system that makes sure that decision-making is fair and transparent, that affected residents have every opportunity to get their voices heard, that gives a just consideration of relative noise impacts and is not too bureaucratic.
We heard from local campaign groups and residents that they weren't confident in the existing system; that they didn't understand how decisions on airspace changes are made; and that they haven't always been listened to. But we were also told about examples where airports had sometimes got the process right because they consulted effectively with local communities, and that the rationale for the final decision was understood, even if it wasn't universally liked.
The new process is designed to build on best practice and to address communities' concerns. The draft guidance which we're consulting on until 30 June, sets out how this process will work in practice - effectively the instruction manual. It defines what anyone sponsoring an airspace change must go through to ensure that we get all the evidence we need to make our decision. The process includes public engagement as part of the design process, as well as the requirement to produce clear evidence about the impacts of different options, including on noise. And it establishes how we will assess proposed change and make our decision on its merits.
For the communities living around airports and under arrival and departure flight paths, as well as the airline and airports serving passengers, it's critical that we get this right. So we really want to hear what you've got to say about the new process. We want to know if stakeholders - particularly local communities - think that our description of the stages of the process is comprehensible, engaging, transparent and proportionate. I would urge everyone to visit our website - consultations.caa.co.uk - and take a look at the draft guidance and let us know what you think.
We know that the airspace decisions won't always be popular with local communities and I'm very mindful that a change which reduces noise impacts for one community may make them worse for another. But the CAA is committed to ensuring that the people affected by a change have a real opportunity to have their say and that whatever the final outcome, there is confidence in the fairness and transparency of our decision-making process.