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Read the CAA’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy:

UK airspace is an invisible but vital piece of our national infrastructure. The basic design has remained the same for decades, despite technological advances and an increase in demand from airspace users. Modernisation is long overdue and is critical to ensure that UK airspace is fit for purpose in the future.

Working together, the CAA and the Department for Transport have developed a shared vision for the modernisation of UK airspace. That vision is to deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys and more capacity for the benefit of those who use and are affected by UK airspace.

In 2017, the Secretary of State tasked the CAA with preparing and maintaining a coordinated strategy and plan for the use of UK airspace up to 2040, including modernisation. Our Airspace Modernisation Strategy (AMS) is based on four strategic objectives: Safety, Integration, Simplification and Environment.

The AMS sets out the ‘ends, ways and means’ of modernising airspace through a series of ‘delivery elements’  that will modernise the design, technology and operations of airspace.

Alongside commercial air transport, other airspace users – including the military, recreational flyers, business aviation, drones, aerial taxis and spacecraft operators – all want greater access to this infrastructure. Airspace modernisation is one of the improvements in system efficiencies that will help aviation to achieve net zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. Communities around airports would also like better mitigation of adverse noise impacts. Read more about the benefits of modernisation.

We published the first AMS in 2018, replacing our previous Future Airspace Strategy. In 2023, we refreshed the AMS to bring it up to date and widen its scope, in particular:

  • to extend the strategy’s focus out to 2040
  • to maintain and, where possible, improve the UK’s high levels of aviation safety
  • to take account of the latest developments in innovation and technology, placing integration of all airspace users at the core of the strategy, including accommodating new types of vehicle such as drones, aerial taxis and spacecraft
  • to aim for simpler airspace design and supporting regulations
  • to introduce environmental sustainability as an overarching principle to be applied through all modernisation activities, taking account of the latest government policy and environmental guidance
  • to meet the UK’s international obligations, aligning delivery of the strategy with the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Global Air Navigation Plan and ensuring interoperability of the UK network with our neighbours
  • to provide a clear strategic path for regulatory policy and requirements now that the UK has left the EU and the EU Aviation Safety Agency.

The AMS 2023–2040 is split into three parts, published separately. Part 1 (Strategic objectives and enablers) explains the strategy’s objectives, a high-level overview of what will enable those objectives to be fulfilled, and governance arrangements for overseeing delivery. Part 1 does not specify detailed solutions, allowing space for innovation.

Part 2 (Delivery elements) and Part 3 (Deployment) describe the short-term ambition and explain how the strategy is being delivered. Parts 2 and 3 are likely to be updated more frequently than Part 1 as the elements evolve and mature for delivery. Part 2 explains the different elements that make up delivery. It includes a linked online database. Part 3 sets out progress with deployment and related activities for those elements. We have yet to determine the form of Part 3, which is still being developed. Because it will be an online collection of plans that is constantly evolving, we envisage that it will not form a single document.

In developing the refreshed strategy we took into account the views of a wide range of aviation and non-aviation stakeholders. You can read the responses to our 2022 consultation and our consultation response document.

During consultation we committed to produce an infographic targeted at users of uncontrolled airspace, in particular the General Aviation community, to give a better visualisation of the Lower Airspace by describing some of the key components.

The AMS vision and strategic objectives give us a direction of travel that guides airspace modernisation. But there remains significant work to do to inform how we achieve that vision and use UK airspace most effectively. The CAA and Department for Transport cannot deliver airspace modernisation alone. We will be working collaboratively with a range of aviation organisations, such as air navigation service providers, airports, airlines, manufacturers, representative organisations and, where appropriate, bespoke delivery bodies to ensure that it is delivered in a coherent and consistent way. A wider range of other stakeholders, including communities, will need to be engaged throughout this delivery.

The AMS governance structure is designed to oversee delivery of the AMS delivery elements. It sets out which organisations make decisions, what they are responsible for, and the stakeholders they will engage with. The governance structure has evolved over time and will continue to evolve.

The AMS does not itself propose specific airspace changes, but a key deliverable is a master plan of airspace changes that will be necessary for modernisation. Any airspace change, whether developed in response to the AMS or for any other reason, must follow our airspace change process which includes consultation with affected stakeholders, including those potentially overflown. The objectives of the AMS cannot focus on the overall level of noise, as this is in part contingent on planning decisions and government policy. The AMS can only be responsible for delivering noise reduction where it has an element of control. Where a decision has been taken through the planning process to increase airport capacity, this is outside the responsibility of the strategy.

Updates to the strategy

February 2024

We have corrected a misstatement in Part 1 of the AMS. Paragraph B38 incorrectly stated the duty in section 108 of the Deregulation Act 2015 (growth duty) applies to our functions to maintain and keep under review the UK’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy and to decide whether to make changes to UK airspace design. This reference has been removed. The growth duty requires regulators to have regard to the desirability to promote economic growth when exercising their regulatory functions. 

The AMS correctly identifies that in addition to our duty to maintain a high standard of safety which has priority over other duties, we must exercise our air navigation functions in the manner we consider best calculated to secure the most efficient use of airspace consistent with the safe operation of aircraft and the expeditious flow of aircraft, and to satisfy the requirements of operators and owners of all classes of aircraft (alongside other duties such as those that relate to aviation’s impact on noise and carbon emissions as set out in section 70 of the Transport Act 2000). Our airspace change decisions and our decisions relating to the Airspace Change Masterplan explain how we have carried out those duties when making those decisions.

The superseded version is available to view for information.

 

Close Updates to the strategy