• Airspace modernisation update - July 2020

    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:

    • Work with the DfT to revisit the key assumptions in the AMS, including the objective, the policy, and the context for airspace modernisation.
    • Complete the task started by the 2018 AMS by looking ahead of 2025 to set a vision for 2040, the timeframe given to us by the Air Navigation Directions 2017.
    • Confirm where initiatives set out in the AMS are still relevant, and whether there are any new approaches that could innovate and improve delivery. We will also consider whether any new initiatives should be added
    • Consider whether there is an opportunity to capitalise on the current reduction in air traffic to lock in improvements in air quality and reductions in CO2 and noise.
    • Run a public consultation exercise, which will include consulting the Secretary of State before confirming any revision to the AMS publicly.

    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.