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Airspace modernisation is vital to the future of aviation to delivering net zero and, now, to supporting the aviation sector’s recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is having a fundamental impact on the sector which in turn has impacted the progression of airspace changes.
The DfT and CAA, as co-sponsors of airspace modernisation released a statement in July 2020 confirming a continued commitment to airspace modernisation and the need to consider how individual organisations may progress airspace change in response to the Airspace Change Organising Group’s (ACOG’s) report on ‘Remobilising the Airspace Change Programme’.
In our July update we stated that we had immediately accepted three of ACOG’s recommendations and the DfT and CAA and committed to considering the remaining recommendations in further detail. Below we provide an update in relation to Sponsors restarting a ‘paused’ ACP and how we intend to assure that ACPs in the FASI-S programme that are progressing to a CAP1616 Stage 2 Gateway assessment do not constrain the optimisation of the wider network. Further information about how we treat the FASI-N and FASI-S programmes can also be found here.
Sponsors restarting a 'paused' Airspace Change Proposal (ACP)
The CAA is committed to capitalising on the work sponsors have done to date in bringing forward airspace change proposals through the airspace change process (CAP1616).
We have now developed guidance which sets out what evidence and assurance that sponsors resuming an existing airspace change will need to provide to the CAA before restarting and progressing further. This guidance applies whether they are part of the FASI programmes or not, and which have been paused.
There are a number of considerations that the CAA will need to understand in terms of any relevant changes in the background context, including;
If there have been relevant changes in context, the sponsor will need to consider whether previous work is still appropriate, can be adjusted or requires an element of work or stage of the CAP1616 process to be revisited.
The ACP restart guidance includes our current understanding of the government's position on relevant policy and our approach to actual and traffic forecasts during, and as a result of, the COVID-19 period.
The aim is to avoid requiring sponsors to repeat work previously conducted where possible. However, there may be circumstances where work will need to be revisited or further information provided on a case by case basis to minimising the possibility of the ACP failing at a later stage due to context changes during the pause.
One of the purposes of the masterplan is to help the CAA make decisions on airspace design changes that, together, create a systemised upgrade to UK airspace, identifying dependencies between changes. Given that ACOG is not in a position to deliver a masterplan at this time, the CAA has now considered what advice it would need in order to decide whether any FASI-S airspace changes could progress to a stage 2 gateway assessment prior to delivery and acceptance of a masterplan.
The CAA has developed a pro forma which would allow ACOG, working with an individual sponsor, to provide advice on potential interactions, dependencies and other issues that would best be managed through the coordinated approach taken in a masterplan, or whether there are no such issues for that part of the airspace. The CAA will use ACOG's advice to decide, in the CAA's role as owner of the Airspace Modernisation Strategy and co-sponsor of the airspace modernisation programme, whether it would be appropriate for a sponsor to proceed to a CAP1616 Stage 2 gateway or not. It does not remove the requirements of CAP 1616, nor does it remove the ability for the CAA to request further information and evidence as part of the CAP 1616 process.
The best course for delivery remains a single, coordinated masterplan. We will therefore only consider taking advice from ACOG, when there is an immediate risk that the inability of an individual sponsor to proceed to the next stage, in the absence of a masterplan, would delay modernisation. The sponsor should discuss this potential approach with ACOG.
Should ACOG, having worked with a FASI-S sponsor, demonstrate that they have no dependencies with other sponsors in the programme and this is subsequently confirmed in an accepted masterplan, one option is that the sponsor may leave the co-ordinated programme to progress independently. If this is not the case, then sponsors will need to align their timescales with ACOG whilst the necessary co-ordination takes place.
Further detail on how we will consider co-ordination in our regulatory decisions is available here.
Airspace modernisation is vital to the future of aviation to delivering net zero and, now, to supporting the aviation sector’s recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is having a fundamental impact on the sector which in turn will impact the progression of airspace changes to original plans.
The DfT and CAA, as co-sponsors of airspace modernisation released a statement recently confirming a continued commitment to airspace modernisation and the need to consider how individual organisations may progress airspace change in response to the Airspace Change Organising Group’s (ACOG’s) report on ‘Remobilising the Airspace Change Programme’.
We have immediately accepted three of ACOG’s recommendations and the DfT and CAA will thoroughly consider the remaining recommendations in further detail given the range and scale of the options proposed by early Autumn. In the meantime, below we provide further detail on how the CAA intends to replan work on airspace modernisation.
The CAA's Airspace Modernisation Strategy (AMS) sets out what airspace modernisation will achieve and how it will happen. Whilst the CAA will always regularly review its AMS, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic means that we will need to undertake a review sooner than expected. This work will start in late 2020 or early 2021; we will decide how and when to undertake this review exercise by continuing to monitor the effects of the crisis and judging when we may have more certainty as to how the UK and the rest of the world is emerging from it. The CAA intends to complete any revisions to the AMS to provide clarity to industry in time for January 2022.
During late 2020, and through 2021, the CAA will conduct an intermediate review of the NERL (NATS (En Route) Plc) price control arrangements for RP3 to consider and address the impact of COVID-19 on the extant arrangements. Subject to the outcome of that review, any subsequent modifications to NERL's price controls and airspace modernisation responsibilities under its licence, would be expected to be implemented from January 2022.
Before any revisions are made by the CAA to the AMS, or by NERL to its AMS commitments, engagement with industry, stakeholders and the public will be needed. It cannot be assumed that the CAA or NERL knows the expectations or intentions of the industry and other key stakeholders, so our decisions will need to evidence how we have considered them.
The Air Navigation Directions 2017 also require the CAA to consult the Secretary of State in developing the AMS; a new amendment to the Directions expected imminently will also require that the CAA does not include in the plan any detail which the Secretary of State has objected to in writing.
To revise the AMS the CAA will:
One of the most complex and challenging initiatives in the AMS is the need for airspace to be redesigned, which requires coordination between independent airspace change sponsors to understand trade-offs and dependencies between airspace changes. The co-sponsors believe this complex coordination is best achieved through a masterplan of airspace changes. NERL has set up ACOG to undertake impartial and objective coordination to prepare the masterplan, starting with the South of the UK, referred to as the FASI-S programme.
The Masterplan will set out where airspace change could be taken forward to provide benefits, consider the potential conflicts, trade-offs and dependencies, and set out a preferred implementation plan.
The co-sponsors do not want to lose the valuable work that ACOG and airspace change sponsors have already done. However, with such material changes to the aviation sector, the CAA could not confidently consider accepting a masterplan at this time, without further analysis to reflect those potential changes. Below we explain what this means for FASI-S changes that have completed Stage 1 of CAP 1616 and are seeking to progress to Stage 2 of the airspace change process. How we consider co-ordination for FASI-N airspace changes is not being reconsidered at present, and can be found on our website.
ACOG's recent report on 'Remobilising the Airspace Change Programme' sets out a number of options for how the change programme could be remobilised. We intend to consider these options in more detail over this summer and we will advise ACOG and stakeholders of our preferred approach in the early autumn, allowing work on the masterplan to restart in good time.
One of the purposes of the masterplan is to help the CAA make decisions on airspace design changes that, together, create a systemised upgrade to UK airspace, identifying dependencies between changes. We have previously stated that if an individual sponsor wanted to progress to stage 2 of the airspace change process (CAP1616) without an accepted masterplan, the CAA would have to work with ACOG and NERL to understand whether that proposal had any dependencies with or impacts on other changes before making any stage 2 gateway decisions.
Given that the CAA is not in a position to confidently accept a masterplan at this time, and consistent with ACOG's recommendations, the CAA is now considering what information it will need before any FASI-S airspace changes could pass through a stage 2 gateway. Sponsors will need to demonstrate their potential interactions or dependencies with other sponsors, who may be working to different timescales or have opted out of the programme. We will also need to understand the potential risks that this may present to the modernisation of the whole UK airspace system. We are considering how this information can be used by the CAA to inform CAP1616 gateway assessments and will share further details as soon as we can.
The CAA is also committed to capitalising on the work sponsors have done to date in bringing forward airspace change proposals through the airspace change process (CAP1616). We are looking at how we will assess any airspace changes, whether part of the FASI programmes or not, and are considering what elements of CAP1616 materials may require additional information, or may need to be revisited by a change sponsor where the background or scope of a proposal has changed.
The aim will be to avoid losing work sponsors have done wherever possible. However, there may be circumstances where will need to be revisited or further information provided. We will look at the information provided by the sponsor in their original Statement of Need. The need the sponsor identified could be affected by, for example, changes to the context or operating environment, or a government policy change. In order to be able to offer sponsors more certainty, the CAA is developing some clear factors that we would have to review to determine whether previous work remained relevant. We will give sponsors as much certainty as we can about how we will make these assessments, although we cannot offer a simple test as we will have to look at the context on a case by case basis.
We intend to develop these two approaches in more detail over the summer and we will advise ACOG and stakeholders of our preferred approach in the early autumn, to coincide with our preferred approach to remobilising the masterplan.
The Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill was paused at report stage in the House of Lords during the current pandemic.
At this point in time, the timelines for the Bill have not been confirmed, but it is likely to return to the House of Lords after summer recess.
The DfT and CAA remain committed to the fundamental importance of airspace modernisation. A new planning exercise will be needed to ensure every aspect of the programme remains relevant and proportionate in the future context. We have set out above some thoughts on how the programme would usefully move forward in the current circumstances. We look forward to replanning and engaging on the delivery of airspace modernisation at the earliest opportunity.
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