• The role of the CAA’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy in relation to airspace changes

    The Airspace Modernisation Strategy (AMS) fulfils the statutory duty placed upon the CAA by the Secretary of State to have a strategy and a plan for modernising airspace (as required by the Air Navigation Directions 2017, the Directions). The AMS describes the objectives set in UK governmental and international policy for airspace to be modernised, and sets out the work that industry and other entities are required to carry out to deliver that modernisation (the Initiatives). There are currently 15 initiatives, two of which are FASI-S and FASI-N.

    FASI-S and FASI-N are programmes to redesign airspace in the south and north of the UK, including upper airspace structures. These are complex airspace design programmes that require coordination between the different ‘sponsors’ of airspace changes. These sponsors are airports and NERL, (NATS En Route Limited, which manages upper airspace and its design).

    The Directions require the CAA to make airspace change decisions (i.e. decide whether or not to approve the sponsor’s proposed airspace design) in accordance with:

    • the CAA’s airspace change process ( CAP 1616)
    • the CAA’s strategy and plan for airspace modernisation (the AMS, CAP 1711)

    The AMS overall and the airspace change process (CAP 1616) apply to all airspace change proposals, whether they are in FASI-S or FASI-N or neither programme. But as identified initiatives in the AMS, at present (October 2020), the CAA treats FASI-S and FASI-N differently. This means that the necessary coordination between sponsors in FASI-S and FASI-N programmes is treated differently in our airspace change decisions

    How coordination is considered in regulatory decisions for FASI-S sponsors

    In accordance with the AMS (Chapter 6, para 6.6), the CAA and Department for Transport (DfT, together the co-sponsors of airspace modernisation) have commissioned NERL to develop a single coordination plan for airspace change in Southern England (the South East airspace change masterplan, or, the masterplan for short). NERL has set up the Airspace Change Organising Group (ACOG) to undertake impartial and objective coordination to prepare the masterplan.

    Although a masterplan has been commissioned for FASI-S, none has yet been commissioned for FASI-N. The reason for this is that both the Airports National Policy Statement and NERL’s ‘Feasibility Report into Airspace Modernisation in the South of the UK’ highlighted the urgency of coordinated airspace change in Southern England. The Southern England masterplan will be followed by further commissions for the creation of masterplans covering modernisation of the rest of UK airspace (paragraph 1.6 of the Executive Summary to the AMS).

    The CAA wrote to FASI-S sponsors to explain why the Design Principles needed to take account of the AMS and the co-commissioned masterplan work. Additionally, we have discussed with ACOG, and written to explain to those FASI-S sponsors that are already in Stage 2 of the process, that CAA will need to see sufficient coordination with other sponsors.

    This means that we would like to use the masterplan to understand the extent to which our regulatory decisions on individual airspace changes need to be made in a coordinated way, i.e. the masterplan should tell us whether there is an interdependence between two or more changes. The masterplan we commissioned is intended to create and evidence this coordination between sponsors. We have decided to take this approach based on the advice provided in the feasibility assessment, which suggested that all sponsors proceed in a coordinated way to understand the conflicts and interdependencies between changes.

    We are currently preparing new regulatory  criteria on how we will accept the masterplan (see CAP1887). Once the masterplan has been accepted into the CAA’s AMS, it will form part of our strategy and we will need to make airspace change decisions in accordance with it.

    This means that consideration of the masterplan will apply to FASI-S airspace changes in addition to consideration of the engagement and consultation requirements in CAP 1616.

    However, with such material impacts to the aviation sector as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, ACOG is not in a position to provide  a masterplan at this time,. Therefore, the CAA has now considered what advice it would need in order to decide whether any FASI-S airspace changes could proceed to a Stage 2 gateway assessment prior to delivery and acceptance of a masterplan.

    The CAA has developed a pro forma which allows ACOG, working with an individual sponsor, to provide advice on whether the sponsor’s airspace change can progress to a Stage 2 gateway assessment without creating any unintended consequences for ACOG’s work on the masterplan. ACOG’s advice will be based on an assessment of whether there are potential interactions, dependencies or 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 assessment  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 of airspace modernasation 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.

    For FASI-S sponsors

    • As with any airspace change proposal, we will, in accordance with CAP 1616, look at the stakeholders FASI-S sponsors have identified and how they have listened to those stakeholder views, noting that other FASI-S sponsors will be amongst those relevant stakeholders.
    • We will also satisfy ourselves that the proposal being developed through the process (e.g. at the Develop and Assess Gateway 2 when we consider the process by which options have been identified) demonstrates it is the product of coordination with the other relevant FASI-S sponsors.
    • The best way of demonstrating that coordination would be through a masterplan that has been accepted into the CAA’s AMS.
    • However, in the absence of an  accepted masterplan at this time, and if there is an immediate risk of delaying modernisation, we have developed pro forma to enable the CAA to consider whether any FASI-S airspace changes could progress to a Stage 2 gateway assessment in the absence of a masterplan. The sponsor should discuss this potential approach with ACOG.

    How coordination is considered in regulatory decisions for FASI-N sponsors

    In due course DfT and CAA will co-commission the creation of masterplans covering modernisation of the rest of UK airspace (paragraph 1.6 of the Executive Summary to the AMS). In the absence of that co-commission, we do not have a feasibility assessment or iteration one of a northern or UK-wide masterplan. Until we have a masterplan that includes the north of the UK, the coordination necessary for FASI-N airspace changes is that described in CAP 1616 only.

    In CAP 1616 sponsors must engage and consult relevant stakeholders. When the CAA makes regulatory decisions on airspace changes, including at gateways, we will look for evidence of the relevant engagement and consultation. This means we will look for a sponsor to "understand how it will potentially impact stakeholders" and that this must include consideration of "other industry bodies – such as airports using neighbouring airspace or air navigation service providers – that might experience consequential impacts as a result of its proposed change" (C8, CAP 1616). In light of this we will look for “evidence of what the sponsor has heard and how this feedback has informed the development of its proposal" (C10, CAP 1616).

    When identifying relevant stakeholders, sponsors should take account of airspace changes which are linked in any way to another airspace change proposal. CAP 1616 Appendix B44 and B45 specifies, and places an emphasis on, the need for sponsors to consider other change proposals that are ‘interlinked’, ‘contingent upon’, ‘an enabler for’, or as part of a ‘phased’ implementation programme of changes. Because FASI-N is a programme, we would expect individual sponsors within it to consider all other FASI-N sponsors as potential stakeholders in their engagement and consultation plans.

    Full details of the regulatory requirements are outlined in CAP 1616. 

    For FASI-N sponsors

    • As with any airspace change proposal, we will, in accordance with CAP 1616, look at the stakeholders FASI-N sponsors have identified and how they have listened to those stakeholder views, noting that other FASI-N sponsors will be amongst those relevant stakeholders.
    • At present, we do not foresee holding any FASI-N sponsors at a gateway in the airspace change process whilst other sponsors progress their airspace changes.
    • When a masterplan is commissioned for the north of the UK, we will treat FASI-N sponsors in the same way as FASI-S.