Although you can’t physically see it, the airspace above our heads is divided into complex structures to enable its many different users, from commercial airliners to military jets and private pilots, to fly safely.
The information here is a guide to the roles and responsibilities of the various organisations involved in running the UK’s airspace and the process followed for making changes to its structure.
We have also provided information on current airspace developments that we are involved in and our reviews of changes already implemented.
Some changes need our approval before they can be implemented while others are at the full discretion of airports or air traffic control organisations. In all cases we encourage airports and air traffic control organisations to provide information to local communities on all changes that will have a significant noise impact.
We absolutely understand that aircraft noise disturbs many people. We will continue to consider the environmental impact of all our airspace decisions and have called on the aviation industry and other decision-makers to be much more ambitious in confronting aviation’s environmental challenges. You can find more information on making an enquiry/complaint about the noise impacts of the various types of aircraft operations on this page.
You can find more information at www.caa.co.uk/noise.
Who is involved?
Government and parliament
The government tasks the CAA with developing policy for the design of UK airspace and Parliament has set out in law what we must consider when doing this.
- efficiency and
- an environmental objective or duty.
The Secretary of State for Transport has given us guidance on how we must interpret and carry out our environmental duty. This includes the policy that in general aircraft descending to or climbing from airports should be concentrated along the fewest possible specified routes and that these routes avoid densely populated areas as far as possible. This is known as concentration over dispersion.
In some cases the Secretary of State for Transport’s approval is needed before changes to the airspace structure are implemented. These are changes which might have a significantly detrimental effect on the environment or a significant effect on noise emissions. If a request is made for the Secretary of State to call-in an airspace change proposal, the Secretary of State may determine that the proposal should be decided by them rather than the CAA.
At Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted the Secretary of State for Transport is also responsible for monitoring and managing aviation noise. One way this happens is the declaration of Noise Preferential Routes or NPRs.
The CAA works within the legal and policy framework set by Parliament and the Secretary of State to:
- develop long-term strategies for UK airspace
- consider requests by airports and air traffic control organisations to change the structure of UK airspace (these are known as airspace change proposals).
This work is carried out through an airspace change process.
Airports and air traffic control organisations
Airports and air traffic control organisations design and ultimately request changes to the UK airspace structure.
Air traffic control organisations develop, maintain and seek to continually improve (by trying out new concepts) the operational procedures which their air traffic controllers follow when determining the paths aircraft are directed by them to fly.
National Air Traffic Services (NATS) are the largest ANSP provider in the UK and are the parent company of NATS (En Route) plc (NERL) and NATS Services Limited (NSL). More information on NATS can be found on the NATS website.
Airports and air traffic control organisations design proposals for changes to the airspace structure by conducting trials . More information on current trials is available on the CAA portal.
Before submitting a request for a change to airspace airports and/or air traffic control organisations are responsible for conducting a consultation on the proposal and supplying us the results of this (together with technical information on how the change will work).