What is airspace?
Airspace can be described as the network of routes in the sky that aircraft follow when flying into and out of the UK’s airports. It is an essential, but invisible, part of the UK’s national transport infrastructure, and is some of the most complex in the world.
The UK’s airspace handles around 2.5 million flights a year, moving nearly 300 million passengers and tonnes of valuable cargo as well as supporting the UK’s military and private pilots in light aircraft and gliders. Studies suggest that these numbers are set to increase, with around 300 million passengers on 3.25 million flights expected by 2030.
Why does airspace need to be modernised and upgraded?
Improvements in technology are driving changes to airspace across the world – a programme of airspace modernisation is already happening in Europe, the US and other major countries across the globe.
In line with this, the UK is now embarking on its own airspace change programme, because just like our roads and railways, the UK needs its airspace, its infrastructure in the sky, to keep people moving as efficiently as possible.
The basic structure of the UK’s airspace was designed more than 50 years ago when there were fewer aircraft in the air, and tools used by air traffic controller were much less sophisticated. Airspace has remained mostly unchanged for several decades and does not enable modern aircraft to fly as efficiently as they could. Meanwhile aircraft technology has moved on a long way. It would be like if our road network hadn’t been changed since the 1960s. Without modernising airspace, the delays faced by passengers are likely to soar.
In response to this, the Government has a policy to update airspace as part of their Airspace Modernisation Strategy. This requires the UK’s main airports to upgrade their airspace (below 7000ft) and for NATS, the air traffic control provider, to modernise the network that sits above these airports, which is known as en-route airspace.
What are the benefits of modernising UK airspace?
Modernising and upgrading airspace will make flying more efficient. It will deliver more precise and more direct routes, fewer delays and less congestion. It will mean fewer delays for holidaymakers, business passengers and cargo alike – a more comfortable and stress-free experience for everyone.
Importantly, it will allow the UK’s aviation sector to continue its role in building the UK’s reputation as a country that punches above its weight globally, reinforcing that the UK is a great place to visit and do business, attracting investment, tourists and the global trading opportunities Britain needs to succeed.
Modernisation represents a huge opportunity to provide a better service for passengers, to potentially reduce noise for thousands and save carbon emissions. These changes will also result in airlines having greater freedom to take routes that save time and fuel, and that air travel could become more affordable, sustainable, and even safer than it is today.
Find out more about why the UK is modernising its airspace.
What organisations are involved in the airspace change programme?
The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) set out their joint Airspace Modernisation Strategy (AMS) in December 2018 to help launch an overhaul of UK airspace. The AMS sets out the government’s vision and strategy, as well as a range of initiatives that the industry must deliver to modernise the UK’s airspace. The Government sets the policy, with the CAA setting out the finalised airspace change processes.
There are over 20 UK airports as well as air traffic control providers, such as NATS, involved in the national programme of airspace change. To help the CAA and Government coordinate the change programme, the Government has set up and tasked the Airspace Change Organising Group (ACOG).
How can I find out if I am under a flight path that may change?
Local consultations will be advertised. NATS and airports will hold regular community meetings during the consultation process. You may receive a leaflet through your door, hear about it on your local radio station, or read about it in your local newspaper.
The airspace change process, designed by the Civil Aviation Authority, is detailed in its Airspace Modernisation Strategy.
We have also summarised each stage of the change process.