London is out of airspace – CAA and NATS comment 2007 on ATWP 2006 expansion plans

2.3.2008   (Sunday Times)

A  new swathe of residential areas could be blighted by aircraft noise and pollution
for the first time after regulators warned there is not enough airspace to cope
with airport expansion in southeast England.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and National Air Traffic Services (NATS) say
expansion in the southeast “would not [leave] sufficient airspace capacity to
accommodate the scale of predicted traffic growth on the basis of current and
predicted technology”.

Families in the south Midlands and East Anglia face the prospect of planes circling
above their homes if ministers proceed with plans to build new runways at Heathrow
and Stansted.

Experts believe new queuing “stacks” will have to be created to deal with the
overspill from London’s crowded skies. The capital’s airspace is already among
the most congested in the world, with 1.4m flights over London last year.

The CAA and NATS warning came in a submission to the Competition Commission,
which is examining BAA, the company that runs Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick.
The Guild of Air Traffic Control Officers said the new stacks would be in addition
to a reorganisation of flight paths announced last month.

A Department of Transport spokesperson said safety was the Government’s top priority
and it had worked with both the CAA and NATS to develop proposals for a third
runway at Heathrow.



Extract from The Competition Commission’s Market Investigation of BAA

A submission by the Civil Aviation Authority       May 2007

27.   Airspace is a finite resource. Safety is the absolute priority for the management
of air traffic flows through a given volume of airspace. This is achieved through
the application of, internationally agreed, horizontal, and vertical separation
criteria that are applied to all aircraft operating within defined volumes of
controlled airspace. In the southeast of England where there are multiple airports
with high traffic volumes of aircraft with different performance characteristics
on a wide variety of departure and arrival routes, there is a limit to the amount
of traffic that can be accommodated safely at any one time.

28     Over time, incremental changes to controlled airspace volumes and modifications
to arrival and departure routes have been made to increase capacity and improve
the efficiency of the airspace. To date, all airspace change requests have been
managed and implemented. However, the CAA and NATS are of the view that, were
all of the SE airport development plans(9) to come to fruition, there would not
be sufficient airspace capacity to accommodate the scale of predicted traffic
growth on the basis of current and predicted technology. As a consequence, airspace
constraints may affect the future nature and degree of competition in this market.


(9)   As currently included in airport master plans and the DfT’s Air Transport
White Paper Progress Report (DfT, December 2006).  [ie. new runway at Heathrow, new runways at Gatwick and at Stansted]. 

The full submission is at