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Airspace modernistion

New technology and a redesigned route network will help deliver more capacity and keep the UK moving

UK airspace

The airspace above and around the South East is some of the busiest in the world. It’s likely to remain this way for years to come. 

UK airspace was designed in the 1950s when there were fewer aircraft in the skies. Making sure that more capable modern planes can perform to the best of their ability means we must make changes now. 

New technology and a redesigned route network will help deliver more capacity and keep the UK moving. That's why the Government, the UK aviation industry and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are working together to modernise our airspace.  

The ambition of airspace modernisation is to make journeys ‘quicker, quieter and cleaner’. If we don’t modernise now, we could see a drastic increase in delays in the future. We will also not be able to reduce environmental impacts, particularly around CO2 and noise. This will be one of the aviation community's most complex change programmes.

Airspace modernisation Q&As

What is airspace?

Airspace is the network of routes or corridors in the sky that allow aircraft to fly safely.

Our airspace is a valuable piece of national infrastructure that keeps us connected to the rest of the world. It is vital for moving people and goods around the world securely, quickly and on time.

What is the airspace modernisation programme?

The Government and the CAA are leading a programme to modernise and redesign UK airspace. The CAA’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy offers non-technical guidance on the scope and objectives of the programme.

The aviation industry is coming together to support the Government and the CAA to deliver this. There are 17 airports working with the Government to redesign UK airspace, including London Gatwick.

The aviation minister wrote to all major London airports seeking their commitment to a programme of airspace modernisation covering the South of England. This is called the Future Airspace Strategy Implementation South (FASI-S) initiative. Separate projects will cover the rest of the UK.

The Government commissioned National Air Traffic Service (NATS) to manage airspace change for the South of England over 7000 feet. All airports affected, including London Gatwick, will lead their own airspace changes below 7,000 feet. Changes will be overseen by the CAA and follow the airspace change process set out in the CAA’s CAP 1616.

Why is airspace modernisation needed?

Demand for air travel has increased steadily and will continue to do so, but the design of UK airspace has not changed significantly since the 1950s.

Without modernisation, the skies above the UK will become increasingly congested. This could see delays soar to 50 times what they are today, with one in three flights delayed by over 30 minutes in 2030 if there are no airspace changes.

The National Air Traffic Service (NATS) has produced some videos to explain why airspace modernisation is needed and to outline what changes it will involve.

What are the benefits of modernisation?

We believe that airspace modernisation will unlock a wide range of benefits, such as:

  • Help to make journeys quicker, quieter and cleaner.
  • ·More choice and value for passengers. Better access to new destinations and increased competition, reducing the cost of flying as less fuel will be used.
  • Improve the resilience of flight schedules. Increased confidence that our trips will not be affected by costly delays and disruption.
  • Make it easier for modern aircraft to fly to their full capabilities, with unrestricted climbs and later descents.
  • Increased capacity will support jobs and generate economic benefits. Making air travel a more reliable means of transport can allow businesses to grow.
  • Reduce the noise footprint on the ground.
  • Less need for stacking, where aircraft join a circular queue to land at busy airports. This brings noise benefits to those living beneath the airspace.
  • More precise flight paths could avoid populated areas and provide multiple routes to distribute noise and offer ‘planned breaks’ from noise. While airspace modernisation will reduce noise impacts for some people, others may experience more noise.

How will airspace modernisation be planned and implemented at Gatwick?

We are legally required to introduce the latest navigation technology as stated in the European Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 2018/1048 on Performance Based Navigation (PBN). This adds to the rollout of the European Air Traffic Management Master Plan. It is expected that the EU requirements related to PBN will be brought into UK law.

We secured partial funding to support key airspace and technology projects through the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA) (Project Reference Number: 2014_091_AF1).

Further details about our part in the FASI-South programme and how you can input into this programme can be found on the CAA’s Airspace Change Portal, Through this, you can register an interest in any of our airspace changes. More information on how and why UK airspace is changing is on the Our Future Skies website.

What airspace will be modernised at Gatwick?

The NATS commission for airspace above 7000 feet means that our arrival and departure routes must be redesigned using satellite-based navigation techniques.

These routes will need to be carefully integrated with NATS’ redesign and with the airspace changes with neighbouring airports. The process will require consultation and collaboration between Gatwick, NATS, and local stakeholders to inform design principles and appraise the options for change.

What will the plan to modernise the UK’s airspace look like and how will Gatwick fit into this?

The Government held consultations on its Aviation 2050 Strategy, which makes the case for modernising our skies.

NATS will consult with a wide range of stakeholders on changes to the structure of the route network at levels above 7000 feet.

Airports across the UK will consult with local communities about changes to their departure and arrival routes.

The CAA will then assess and decide on the proposals put forward by NATS and airports, and feedback to the Government.

What are the next steps?

We have started engaging with stakeholders including airlines, other airports, local officials and community groups to gather early views on design principles. 

All material that we use to engage with these stakeholder groups is available on the CAA’s Airspace Change Portal. Our component of the FASI-South airspace change process to receive alerts whenever new material is added or updated.

How will the airspace modernisation process be guided?

All airports must follow the CAA’s Airspace Change process.

The Government and CAA have put new policies in place to ensure decision-making for airspace change is fair and transparent. This includes setting up a new Independent Commission for Aviation Noise (ICCAN), to advise government on how the needs of affected communities can best be served.