Airspace Modernisation

What is airspace modernisation?

The Department for Transport (DfT) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are working together to act as co-sponsors for the modernisation of the UK’s airspace. Modernising airspace means updating its structural design, changing how the systems on which it runs work, and using new technology to improve how air traffic is managed.

The overall objective for airspace modernisation is to deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys and more capacity for the benefit of those who use and are affected by UK airspace.

The UK government’s policy on managing UK airspace

Why is airspace modernisation needed?

The UK’s airspace is some of the most complex in the world, yet has not undergone significant change since the 1950s.

Successfully accommodating the growth in demand for air transport has meant adding significant complexity to the UK’s airspace system. Particularly where volumes of traffic are highest, over south-east England.

The CAA’s Airspace modernisation strategy outlines the work that needs to happen to modernise airspace, and why.

What are the benefits of airspace modernisation?

Combined with the development of new technology, airspace modernisation has the potential to:

  • help to reduce aviation’s carbon emissions,
  • reduce the need for stacking, where aircraft join a circular queue to land at busy airports, helping to reduce carbon emissions and noise impact
  • create opportunities for airports to manage how noise impacts local communities, including the introduction of ‘planned breaks’ for noise respite
  • increase the resilience of flights to reduce unnecessary delays,
  • increase airport capacity.

What are the disbenefits of airspace modernisation?

Airspace modernisation may result in new flight paths that means that new communities become overflown for the first time.

It is also possible that current flight paths may change which could result in increases in noise for communities currently overflown.

Part of the modernisation process will see the introduction of Performance Based Navigation (PBN) which enables aircraft to fly closer together more safely. However, this can also be used to increase the number of aircraft flying on a specific path – known as ‘concentration’.

In many parts of the world where concentrated flight paths have been introduced there has been significant increases community annoyance.

What is happening?

One of the most complex and pressing aspects of airspace modernisation is the need for its redesign, to accommodate the different types of aircraft that have been developed in recent decades. Flightpaths have to be redrawn in a coordinated way.

This programme requires airports across the UK to consult with local communities and other airspace users about changes to their departure and arrival routes. This process has already started in some parts of the country, with statutory consultations due in the future.

Changes to the design of UK airspace are proposed by an airspace change sponsor, typically an airport. The CAA’s CAP1616 document (PDF, 2.5MB) sets out a clear process for change sponsors to follow.

Airports and NATS will work closely together to ensure that the proposed changes fit together seamlessly and contribute to an effective airspace infrastructure for the future. The Airspace Change Organising Group (ACOG) has been set up to support this coordination and to draw a masterplan which will show areas where new designs will be needed.

DfT and CAA will assess this masterplan and track its delivery (draft expected in Autumn 20201). The masterplan will not set out the new designs, which must be developed by a change sponsor, such as NATS and airports. Once the new design proposals have been put forward, the CAA will assess these and decide whether to approve or reject them.

Anyone is also able to request that the Secretary of State for Transport calls in a particular airspace change proposal and makes a decision on whether to approve or reject it, instead of the CAA, if the proposal meets certain criteria.

How do I get involved with consultations that affect me?

The process of modernisation must involve close consultation with all impacted stakeholders, including communities and people who operate aircraft, such as private pilots and other members of the general aviation community. Airports will need to show they have listened to and considered the views of local people and others affected by the design when submitting their plans to the CAA for a decision.

The CAA clearly sets how the change sponsors need to carry out their consultations. The change sponsor is required to agree its consultation strategies with the CAA before it begins.

To guarantee transparency in the airspace change process, the CAA airspace change portal provides all the information about every airspace change it receives. This includes those that are part of airspace modernisation, as well as any other proposals change sponsors submit.

The airspace change portal includes a postcode checking tool to see if you will be affected by airspace changes and an option to receive email updates on changes you could be affected by.