CAA approve various airspace changes, but review of the airspace change process is under way

The CAA has the ultimate ability to approve changes to airspace and flight paths. There is a long process through which proposed changes have to go, including development of the proposal, the preparation of the public consultation, collating and analysing the responses, modifying the airspace design if necessary, providing feedback to consultees, decision by the CAA, implementation of the change, and then operational review a year after its introduction.  There is currently a review under way, by the aviation consultancy, Helios, of the CAA’s process for changing use of airspace. It is looking at strengths/weaknesses in the process, possible improvements, including better transparency and accountability. Before any reform of the airspace change process is implemented, the CAA will hold a public consultation – expected before spring 2016. Meanwhile, the CAA has approved some airspace changes, covering eastern and southern England. They say these “will enable aircraft to fly more efficiently, help reduce the number of low-level flights and reduce the environmental impact of aviation.” The aim is to save money/fuel for airlines, and thus reduce CO2 emissions.  The intention is also, where possible, to slightly reduce noise exposure.


Major airspace changes approved by the CAA making airline flights more efficient

26 November 2015 (CAA press release)

• Announcement signals the first major development of the Future Airspace Strategy (FAS) project to modernise UK airspace.
• Change helps reduce aviation’s environmental impact removing 30,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.
• Aircraft flying to London City Airport will now fly over the Thames Estuary for significantly longer –  reducing noise for many.
• Aircraft departing from Stansted to the south east will climb higher, sooner – reducing fuel burn and CO2.The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has today approved a series of major airspace changes covering eastern and southern England, which will enable aircraft to fly more efficiently, help reduce the number of low-level flights and reduce the environmental impact of aviation.

The proposed plans, known collectively as the ‘London Airspace Management Programme’ (LAMP) phase 1a, were submitted to the CAA by NATS, the air traffic service provider, and followed consultation it undertook between October 2013 and January 2014.

It is the first significant change as part of the UK’s Future Airspace Strategy (FAS), which is set to modernise airspace by 2020. This is part of a European project [SESAR] to improve airspace infrastructure to deliver a more efficient use of airspace and enable environmental improvements including fuel and CO2 savings by aircraft flying more direct routes and with faster climbs and descents reducing impact on the overflown.

In total, five* changes (see below) have been approved, which will see newly designed and more efficient flight paths implemented on 4 February 2016, helping improve capacity, minimise delays for air travellers and further enhancing safety.

The most significant changes are:

• The introduction of a new Point Merge arrivals system will eliminate conventional holding patterns for many aircraft inbound to London City Airport, routeing aircraft over the Thames Estuary for as long as possible to reduce low-level flights and noise over Kent, Essex and East London. Aircraft departing London City to the south will be able to climb earlier than they do at the moment, reducing noise and CO2 emissions.

• Aircraft leaving Stansted to the south will now instead use the existing easterly route from the airport during the day. Aircraft taking off will also climb more quickly, reducing overall noise and CO2 emissions.
• There will be a reduction in noise from lower level flights in the Southampton and Bournemouth area by re-routeing arrivals away from the area around Goodwood which will keep aircraft over the Solent for longer thus reducing flight over land for these arrivals.


The changes cover an area from Stansted to the Isle of Wight, including parts of Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. Changes will affect commercial aircraft using London City, Stansted, Luton, Southampton, Bournemouth, Northolt and Biggin Hill airports.

Commenting on today’s announcement Phil Roberts, Head of Airspace, Air Traffic Management & Aerodromes, at the CAA, said: “The changes we have approved today will bring significant benefits to both air passengers and many communities currently overflown by aircraft.

“We absolutely understand that aircraft noise disturbs many people. These changes move significant numbers of flights away from populated areas and will reduce overall emissions.

“As we have done with this decision, we will continue to consider the environmental impact of all our airspace decisions and have called on the aviation industry and other decision-makers to be much more ambitious in confronting aviation’s environmental challenges.”

Airspace modernisation

The Future Airspace Strategy (FAS) aims to:
• Save over 160,000 tonnes of fuel per year (with an estimate net present value to airlines of £907m to £1.17bn out to 2030)
• Save over 1.4 million minutes of airline’s time per year, reducing maintenance and crew costs (with an estimate net present value to airlines of £338m – £441m out to 2030)  [There were about 2.1 million air transport movements at UK airports in 2014. So that is about 40 seconds per flight, on average … AW note]
• Save over 1.1 million minutes of passenger delay per year  [To put that into context, there were around 240 million air passengers using UK airports in 2014 …. just over a quarter of a second per passenger ….AW note]
• Save over 500,000 tonnes of aviation CO2 emissions per year [The total carbon emissions of UK aviation are around 35 million tonnes CO2 per year – so this is about 1.43%…. AW note]
• Enhance safety by reducing controller and pilot workload


Notes to editors

UK airspace is a very limited and important part of our national transport infrastructure but the basic structure of the UK’s airspace was developed over forty years ago. Since then there have been huge changes, including a hundred fold increase in demand for aviation.Throughout Europe there is a move to simplify and harmonise the way airspace and air traffic control is used through the Single European Sky project. [SESAR].  In the UK and Ireland we’re meeting those and other issues through the Future Airspace Strategy, which sets out a plan to modernise airspace by 2020.

More information on UK airspace and how the CAA handles applications for airspace changes can be found at: airspace changes.

*The five changes approved as part of LAMP Phase 1a:
Module A – Stansted departure switch transferring the bulk of southerly departures via Detling in Kent to the south east of the airport via Essex/Clacton (CLN) to a point off the north-east corner of Kent (over the sea).
Module B – London City satellite navigation departures to replicate existing conventional departure routes.
Module C- London City network proposals with a slight re-positioning of southerly departures further to the east enabling arrivals via the Thames Estuary via the new Point Merge procedure.
Module D – Luton and Northolt departure changes which occur in the latter stages of the existing departure profiles which do not affect low altitude routes below 7000 feet.
Module E – changes to airspace over the Solent and the Isle of Wight affecting Southampton, Bournemouth and Farnborough arrivals and departures.

The CAA’s airspace change process

The CAA’s website says:

If someone, usually an airport or air traffic control provider, wants to request a permanent change to the UK airspace structure they must submit an airspace change proposal to us. These go through our airspace change process which contains a number of stages to be completed before the proposal is submitted to us for a decision.

An independent review of the airspace change process is underway. 2015 review of the airspace change process : “An independent review of the airspace change process is currently being conducted on behalf of the CAA by Helios, an aviation consultancy. The review aims to identify strengths or weaknesses in the process and hence potential improvements that could be made.  The review is focused on the airspace change process but not the merits or otherwise of individual airspace decisions or operational practices.”

The stages of the airspace change process are:

Stage 1 – framework briefing

We meet with the organisation that is considering proposing an airspace change to discuss their plans, the operational, environmental and consultation requirements for proposing a change and set out the how the CAA process will run.

Stage 2 – proposal development

The organisation that is considering proposing the airspace change begins to develop design options and researches who needs to be consulted. They will also conduct an initial environmental assessment of the proposals which will need to be more detailed if, and by the time, the organisation proceeds and with its proposal and prepares for consultation. It is recommended that the organisation invites a cross section of parties who may be affected by the change to form a Focus Group to help with the development of the design options.

Stage 3 – preparing for consultation

The organisation that is considering proposing the airspace change decides on the most appropriate consultation method needed to reach all consultees. This could include a written consultation, questionnaires or surveys, using representative groups and open/public meetings. We will provide advice to the organisation on the scope and conduct of the consultation but it remains their responsibility to ensure that the appropriate level of consultation is undertaken. Consultations should normally last for at least 12 weeks with consideration given to longer timescales where feasible and sensible. Consultation documents should be clear about the objectives of the proposal, what is being proposed, how the change would affect various stakeholders, the expected advantages and disadvantages of the proposals to all stakeholders, the consultation process and the scope to influence. If a single design option is being consulted upon, the document should state what other options were considered and why these were discarded.

Stage 4 – consultation and formal proposal submission

When the consultation is launched the organisation that is considering proposing the airspace change should make every effort to bring it to the attention of all interested parties. The organisation must ensure that accurate and complete records of all responses are kept. Following the consultation, the organisation collates and analyses all responses to identify the key issues and themes. . There may be airspace design modifications in light of the consultation responses which results in the need for further consultation. The organisation is required to publish feedback consultees. If the organisation decides it will submit a formal airspace change proposal to us to then its feedback document must include information on how the final decision on the option selected was reached. In addition to publishing the feedback report the organisation sends all the consultation responses to the CAA within its formal proposal submission.

Stage 5 – our decision

We undertake a detailed assessment of the proposal and may ask for clarification or supplementary information from the organisation requesting the change. Our assessment covers

  1. the operational need for, objectives and feasibility of the changes proposed
  2. our analysis of the anticipated environmental benefits and impacts if the change were made; and
  3. an assessment of the consultation carried out by the organisation proposing the change and of the responses received to that consultation.

Our conclusions in these three areas inform our decision whether to approve or reject the proposal. When making our decision the law requires us to give priority to safety but then to balance the need for the most efficient use of airspace with the needs of operators of aircraft and the environmental effect of aviation (including noise and Co2 emissions). The means by which we assess and balance the environmental impact within our decision making process is set out in government policy which we implement. We aim to make our decision within 16 weeks of having all the information we need.

Stage 6 – implementation

If a change is approved then changes to airspace procedures and structures are timed to start on internationally specified dates which occur every 28 days. This ensures that the aviation community, as a whole, is aware of the changes and can prepare. The organisation that proposed the change should publicise the airspace change to members of the local community and other stakeholder groups who were consulted earlier in the process.

Stage 7 – operational review

Around 12 months after a change is implemented we will start a review of the change to assess whether the anticipated impacts and benefits, set out in the original airspace change proposal and decision, have been delivered and if not to ascertain why and to determine the most appropriate course of action. Once complete we will publish the review on our website.

This process is based on Ministerial Directions given by the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for Defence (under section 66(1) of the Transport Act 2000) dated 2001, amended 2004, the CAA’s duties set out in Section 70 of the Transport Act 2000 and environmental guidance given by the Secretary of State for Transport under section 70(2)(d) of the Transport Act 2000. The Department for Transport has published Guidance to the Civil Aviation Authority on Environmental Objectives Relating to the Exercise of its Air Navigation Functions.

Full details of the airspace change process are in the following publications

A change to the use or classification of airspace in the UK can take many forms and may be simple and straightforward to implement with little noticeable operational or environmental impact.  Conversely, a change may be complex and involve significant alterations to existing airspace arrangements and impact upon the various airspace user groups and the general public.



An independent review of the airspace change process is under way. 2015 review of the airspace change process : “An independent review of the airspace change process is currently being conducted on behalf of the CAA by Helios, an aviation consultancy. The review aims to identify strengths or weaknesses in the process and hence potential improvements that could be made.  The review is focused on the airspace change process but not the merits or otherwise of individual airspace decisions or operational practices.”

In establishing this review the CAA set a number of objectives:

  • to assess the CAA’s current airspace change process;
  • to elicit, from external stakeholders, their views on the strengths and weaknesses of the current process (but not the merits or otherwise of individual airspace change decisions);
  • to identify any material weaknesses in the process and to form hypotheses for process improvements that could address those weaknesses;
  • to test some of the initial hypotheses concerning potential improvements to the process; and
  • to present recommendations for improving the current process.

Options for strengthening or improving the current process would need to conform to the principles of ‘better regulation’ (transparency, proportionality, accountability, consistency and targeting). No decisions have been made yet. Before any reform of the airspace change process is implemented, the CAA will separately seek the views of interested parties through a public consultation. The CAA expects any such consultation to be launched towards the end of 2015 or early 2016 at the latest.

Helios held several workshop, including one for individuals, local community representatives, environment and noise campaign groups on 18 September 2015