The airspace change process

Permanent changes to the UK airspace structure

If someone, usually an airport or air traffic control provider, wants to request a permanent change to the UK airspace structure they must submit an airspace change proposal to us. These go through our airspace change process which contains a number of stages to be completed before the proposal is submitted to us for a decision.

An independent review of the airspace change process is underway. Click here for more information.

The stages of the airspace change process are:

Stage 1 – framework briefing

We meet with the organisation that is considering proposing an airspace change to discuss their plans, the operational, environmental and consultation requirements for proposing a change and set out the how the CAA process will run. 

Stage 2 – proposal development

The organisation that is considering proposing the airspace change begins to develop design options and researches who needs to be consulted. They will also conduct an initial environmental assessment of the proposals which will need to be more detailed if, and by the time, the organisation proceeds and with its proposal and prepares for consultation. It is recommended that the organisation invites a cross section of parties who may be affected by the change to form a Focus Group to help with the development of the design options.

Stage 3 – preparing for consultation

The organisation that is considering proposing the airspace change decides on the most appropriate consultation method needed to reach all consultees. This could include a written consultation, questionnaires or surveys, using representative groups and open/public meetings. We will provide advice to the organisation on the scope and conduct of the consultation but it remains their responsibility to ensure that the appropriate level of consultation is undertaken. Consultations should normally last for at least 12 weeks with consideration given to longer timescales where feasible and sensible. Consultation documents should be clear about the objectives of the proposal, what is being proposed, how the change would affect various stakeholders, the expected advantages and disadvantages of the proposals to all stakeholders, the consultation process and the scope to influence. If a single design option is being consulted upon, the document should state what other options were considered and why these were discarded.

Stage 4 – consultation and formal proposal submission

When the consultation is launched the organisation that is considering proposing the airspace change should make every effort to bring it to the attention of all interested parties. The organisation must ensure that accurate and complete records of all responses are kept. Following the consultation, the organisation collates and analyses all responses to identify the key issues and themes. . There may be airspace design modifications in light of the consultation responses which results in the need for further consultation. The organisation is required to publish feedback consultees. If the organisation decides it will submit a formal airspace change proposal to us to then its feedback document must include information on how the final decision on the option selected was reached. In addition to publishing the feedback report the organisation sends all the consultation responses to the CAA within its formal proposal submission.

Stage 5 – our decision

We undertake a detailed assessment of the proposal and may ask for clarification or supplementary information from the organisation requesting the change. Our assessment covers

  1. the operational need for, objectives and feasibility of the changes proposed
  2. our analysis of the anticipated environmental benefits and impacts if the change were made; and
  3. an assessment of the consultation carried out by the organisation proposing the change and of the responses received to that consultation.

Our conclusions in these three areas inform our decision whether to approve or reject the proposal. When making our decision the law requires us to give priority to safety but then to balance the need for the most efficient use of airspace with the needs of operators of aircraft and the environmental effect of aviation (including noise and Co2 emissions). The means by which we assess and balance the environmental impact within our decision making process is set out in government policy which we implement. We aim to make our decision within 16 weeks of having all the information we need.

Stage 6 – implementation

If a change is approved then changes to airspace procedures and structures are timed to start on internationally specified dates which occur every 28 days. This ensures that the aviation community, as a whole, is aware of the changes and can prepare. The organisation that proposed the change should publicise the airspace change to members of the local community and other stakeholder groups who were consulted earlier in the process.

Stage 7 – operational review

Around 12 months after a change is implemented we will start a review of the change to assess whether the anticipated impacts and benefits, set out in the original airspace change proposal and decision, have been delivered and if not to ascertain why and to determine the most appropriate course of action. Once complete we will publish the review on our website.

This process is based on Ministerial Directions given by the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for Defence (under section 66(1) of the Transport Act 2000) dated 2001, amended 2004, the CAA’s duties set out in Section 70 of the Transport Act 2000 and environmental guidance given by the Secretary of State for Transport under section 70(2)(d) of the Transport Act 2000. The Department for Transport has published Guidance to the Civil Aviation Authority on Environmental Objectives Relating to the Exercise of its Air Navigation Functions.

Full details of the airspace change process are in the following publications

A change to the use or classification of airspace in the UK can take many forms and may be simple and straightforward to implement with little noticeable operational or environmental impact.  Conversely, a change may be complex and involve significant alterations to existing airspace arrangements and impact upon the various airspace user groups and the general public.

More information

Related CAA publications