• Although you can’t physically see it, the airspace above our heads is divided into complex structures to enable its many different users, from commercial airliners to military jets and private pilots, to fly safely.

    The information here is a guide to the roles and responsibilities of the various organisations involved in running the UK’s airspace and the process followed for making changes to its structure.

    We have also provided information on current airspace developments that we are involved in and our reviews of changes already implemented.

    Aircraft noise

    Some changes need our approval before they can be implemented while others are at the full discretion of airports or air traffic control organisations. In all cases we encourage airports and air traffic control organisations to provide information to local communities on all changes that will have a significant noise impact.

    We absolutely understand that aircraft noise disturbs many people. We will continue to consider the environmental impact of all our airspace decisions and have called on the aviation industry and other decision-makers to be much more ambitious in confronting aviation’s environmental challenges. You can submit complaints about airspace noise by providing a use of UK airspace report (FCS 1521).

    You can find more information at www.caa.co.uk/noise.

  • Who is involved?

    Government and parliament

    The government tasks the CAA with developing policy for the design of UK airspace and Parliament has set out in law what we must consider when doing this.

    These include:

    • safety,
    • efficiency and
    • an environmental objective or duty.

    The Secretary of State for Transport has given us guidance on how we must interpret and carry out our environmental duty. This includes the policy that in general aircraft descending to or climbing from airports should be concentrated along the fewest possible specified routes and that these routes avoid densely populated areas as far as possible. This is known as concentration over dispersion.

    In some cases the Secretary of State for Transport’s approval is needed before changes to the airspace structure are implemented. These are changes which might have a significantly detrimental effect on the environment or a significant effect on noise emissions.

    At Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted the Secretary of State for Transport is also responsible for monitoring and managing aviation noise. One way this happens is the declaration of Noise Preferential Routes or NPRs.

  • Our role

    The CAA works within the legal and policy framework set by Parliament and the Secretary of State to:

    • develop long-term strategies for UK airspace
    • consider requests by airports and air traffic control organisations to change the structure of UK airspace (these are known as airspace change proposals).

    This work is carried out through an airspace change process.

    Airports and air traffic control organisations

    Airports and air traffic control organisations design and ultimately request changes to the UK airspace structure.

    Air traffic control organisations develop, maintain and seek to continually improve (by trying out new concepts) the operational procedures which their air traffic controllers follow when determining the paths aircraft are directed by them to fly.

    Airports and air traffic control organisations design proposals for changes to the airspace structure by conducting trials (link to section below).

    Before submitting a request for a change to airspace airports and/or air traffic control organisations are responsible for conducting a consultation on the proposal and supplying us the results of this (together with technical information on how the change will work).

  • Joint statement

    Mr Martin Barraud has today withdrawn his application for a judicial review against the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

    The judicial review concerned an alleged failure by the CAA to ensure appropriate consultation was carried out in relation to changes in air traffic control procedures for aircraft arriving at Gatwick Airport from the east. The effect of those changes, which took place in 2013, was to concentrate aircraft, and therefore aircraft noise, over certain communities in west Kent.

    Permission to apply for judicial review was initially refused by the High Court but the Court of Appeal subsequently overturned that decision and further decided that the substantive claim should remain in the Court of Appeal. The court proceedings have been placed on hold since December 2015.

    CAA statement

    We confirm that Mr Barraud has withdrawn his judicial review proceedings concerning the process followed by the CAA in respect of aircraft arriving at Gatwick airport from the east.

    The CAA is very aware of the impact that aviation noise can have and is mindful of the need for local communities to have a fair say when changes to the structure of airspace are proposed. To that end we have undertaken a significant amount of work to propose, where we can, the opportunity for communities to participate in this process. We expect to see full implementation of these proposals by the end of 2017.

    Statement from Mr Barraud

    Commenting on his withdrawal of the judicial review, Martin Barraud said:

    Since we commenced these judicial review proceedings:

    • Gatwick Airport has commissioned an independent review of arrivals, and accepted all of its 23 recommendations including that the relevant air traffic control procedures relating to vectoring onto the final approach should be restored as closely as possible to those that applied prior to the 2013 change, with an objective of reversing much of the aircraft concentration caused by that change. This change in air traffic control procedure has now been implemented and its effects are currently being monitored.
    • The Department for Transport has confirmed that it is considering bringing forward a proposal that would mean that before implementing new permanent and planned air traffic procedures that are likely to result in a redistribution of air traffic, air navigation service providers engage with affected communities. The proposal would be consulted on before adoption. If adopted, it would require certain proposed changes to air traffic control procedures of the sort that were made at Gatwick in 2013 to be consulted on in the future.

    “This judicial review has done its job. There is still much work to do to make sure that Gatwick and air traffic control distribute aircraft fairly so that no one suffers intolerable noise, but restoring the pre-2013 air traffic control procedures should permit that to happen and is all we could have achieved via the courts. The regulatory change to be proposed by the Department of Transport will help make sure that no other community suffers the dramatic increase in noise that we experienced without proper consultation. More broadly we believe the government, the CAA and the industry are now far more aware of the need for communities to be fully involved in any change in flight paths or air traffic control procedures that might increase aircraft noise. Regulation and governance of the noise impact of the aviation industry still needs fundamental reform, but these changes are important steps in the right direction.