• Airspace modernisation co-sponsor update (July 2020): The Government and the Civil Aviation Authority have asserted our continued commitment to airspace modernisation in a joint statementand we have set out further detail on how we intend to review work on airspace modernisation going forward, including the need to consider how individual organisations may progress airspace changes in these uncertain times. 

    The CAA has published its finalised Airspace Modernisation Strategy (AMS). The new strategy is in response to the Department for Transport tasking the Civil Aviation Authority with preparing and maintaining a co-ordinated strategy and plan for the use of UK airspace up to 2040, including modernisation.

    The AMS replaces the Future Airspace Strategy and sets out the ways, means and ends of modernising airspace through 15 initiatives that will modernise the design, technology and operations of airspace, initially focusing on the period until the end of 2024. These include the removal of all fixed routes in upper airspace so aircraft can fly fully optimised routes, a fundamental redesign of the terminal route network using precise and flexible satellite navigation, and the focus on electronic surveillance solutions to improve safety and enable better integration of all airspace users. The AMS is published following public engagement earlier in 2018, which saw hundreds of people have their say.

    The structure of the UK’s airspace has remained the same for decades, despite an increase in demand from its users. According to research conducted by NATS, flights in UK airspace are forecast to grow from 2.25 million per year in 2015 to 3.25 million in 2030 (an increase of 44 per cent). If nothing changes, more and more flights will be delayed at UK airports each year. Without modernisation,  NATS predict an average of 26.5 minutes of delay per delayed flight, with more than 1 in 3 flights from all UK airports expected to depart over half an hour late due to a shortfall in airspace capacity. Other airspace users, including drone and spacecraft operators, general aviation and the military are also wanting increased access to this infrastructure and other stakeholders such as local communities want adverse impacts to be better mitigated.  Modernisation is critical to ensure that this invisible piece of the UK’s national infrastructure is fit for purpose for the future.

    The AMS sets out a new shared objective between the Civil Aviation Authority and the Department for Transport for modernising airspace which is to deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys and more capacity for the benefit of those who use and are affected by UK airspace. This new strategy will allow the UK to provide more choice and value for consumers, allowing airlines to add new flights, reducing flight delays and enhancing global connections that can help boost the UK economy, while continuing to improve safety standards and helping make journeys more environmentally friendly. Coupled with the adoption of new technology by existing airspace users, it will also help pave the way for increased safe access for newer airspace users like drones and spacecraft.

    The increase in traffic may lead to an increase in noise in some areas, or the concentration of traffic can focus noise over a smaller area. While it is impossible to reduce the impact of aviation noise for all communities, it is important that noise is managed as well as possible. Airports should also consider whether they can develop airspace change proposals to reduce noise, i.e. to reduce the total adverse health effects of noise.

    The strategy also presents a new governance structure which sets out the industry’s responsibility for its delivery and how relevant stakeholders will be a part of that process. The AMS does not propose any specific airspace changes but suggests that a masterplan of changes that will be necessary for modernisation should be developed. Any individual airspace changes that are developed either in response to this strategy or for any other reasons will go through the CAA’s airspace change process (as set out in CAP 1616), to include consultation with affected stakeholders which, depending on the circumstances, includes communities on the ground and other airspace users.