One of the most complex and pressing aspects of airspace modernisation is the need to redesign flightpaths, to make the most of the capabilities of modern aircraft and navigational technology that have been developed in recent decades.
The aviation industry is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK. When changes to airspace are proposed, sponsors of airspace change (usually airports and NATS) are required to follow the CAA’s Airspace Change Proposal (ACP) process. This process involves numerous stages and places great importance on engaging and consulting with a wide range of stakeholders. The CAA is responsible for assessing proposals and in most cases, deciding whether to approve or reject them.
The seven stages to airspace change
Develop design principles
Airspace change sponsors gather views from a range of stakeholders on their ‘design principles’. These inform how future flight paths are designed and ensure the best balance of priorities between stakeholders. The sponsor then sends their final set of design principles to the Civil Authority (CAA) for approval.
Review design principles
The design principles are used to help develop and evaluate potential options for future airspace changes, and stakeholders are asked for their views again at this stage. These then go through an ‘initial’ appraisal before being sent to the CAA for approval and publication on their website.
The sponsor conducts another appraisal to further narrow the options and launches a full public consultation on their proposed airspace changes.
The sponsor uses the feedback from the consultation to refine, update and then submit their final proposals to the CAA.
Evaluation by the CAA
The CAA makes a full assessment and decides whether to approve the proposed airspace changes. The Secretary of State for Transport may decide to look into specific airspace change proposals and make the decision on whether to approve these.
Airspace change implementation
If approved, the airspace changes are put in place.
Post implementation review
After around a year of operation, the CAA will review the changes as part of a Post Implementation Review.
The Airspace Change Organising Group (ACOG) is tasked with coordinating the delivery of the airspace change programme. Over time, ACOG, in collaboration with NATS and the airports, will deliver an Airspace Masterplan that provides detailed information on the design options under development, the potential areas of overlap between ACPs and the compromises and trade-offs that may need to be made to integrate them effectively.
The Masterplan will not set out the new airspace designs, these must be developed by a sponsor of airspace change. It will then be for the Department for Transport and the CAA to assess and track the delivery of this Masterplan.