Ministers are paving the way to expand airports and create hundreds of flight paths amid warnings that demand for air travel will soar by a third in the next 12 years.

The Department for Transport publishes a long-awaited aviation strategy today that pledges to deliver “greater capacity at UK airports”.

It raises the prospect of airports other than Heathrow growing and accepting more flights if tough environmental and noise restrictions are met.

The strategy also outlines plans for the biggest overhaul of Britain’s airspace in more than 50 years to create new flight paths into the biggest airports. GPS-style technology will allow aircraft to fly along more accurate paths below 30,000ft instead of being led by ground beacons, which space planes out over a wide arc several miles across.

It will mean a considerable increase to the 600 or so dedicated flight paths that are in operation today.

The move is likely to prove hugely controversial, with campaigners insisting that it will subject those households directly beneath the flight paths to unbearable noise levels.

However, Nats, the air traffic control service, said that creating more accurate paths would allow them to alternate routes throughout the day, giving residents more respite. Controllers would also be able to reduce the number low-level “stacks”, where incoming aircraft circle an airport waiting for runway clearance. This would reduce noise and fuel consumption.

Nats predictions published today say that the system could cut noise levels by a fifth at Stansted and Gatwick, a quarter at Luton, more than a third at Heathrow and 70 per cent at London City Airport.

New flight paths are expected to be designed by the summer of 2020 and introduced in 2024 and 2025 subject to approval from the Civil Aviation Authority.

The strategy, which will go out for public consultation, also sets out plans for noise caps at airports and incentives for airlines that use the quietest planes. An Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise (ICCAN) has been created to police the system.

Nats says that the number of flights in and out of the UK is expected to grow 700,000 to about 2.9 million by 2030.

An aviation industry source told The Times: “We have one chance to get this right but we need government to take the lead. Too often they have shied away because politically it is very tough, but without them setting the policy framework it puts industry in an almost impossible situation.

“The simple truth is that without modernisation we will not be able to grow our industry.”

The government has already given outline approval for Heathrow to build a third runway, allowing an additional 260,000 take-offs or landings a year.

The strategy, which sets government policy on aviation up to 2050, acknowledges that other airports should also be granted permission to grow. Gatwick, the country’s second busiest airport, has drawn up expansion plans, with a proposal to put its existing emergency runway into regular operational use.


See earlier:

DfT publishes Aviation Strategy, with focus on growth and helping passengers – little on environmental impacts

The government has published its Aviation Strategy, which the DfT says “will set out the longterm direction for aviation policy to 2050 and beyond.” The first phase of its development was the publication of a call for evidence in July 2017. The Aviation Strategy says it will now “pursue 6 objectives, which are unchanged following the consultation.” It is very much focused on the passenger, the passenger experience, helping the aviation industry, expanding aviation and “building a global and connected Britain.”  The Strategy “sets out further detail on the challenges associated with these objectives and some of the action that the government is considering and which will form part of further consultation later in the year.” The DfT says:  “The government will continue the dialogue that has already begun on these issues. The next step will be the publication of detailed policy proposals in a green paper in the autumn of 2018. This will be followed by the final Aviation Strategy document in early 2019.” There is mention of the environmental problems (carbon, noise, air pollution) but they are given scant attention, and it is presumed they can all be reduced – even while the sector has huge growth.  A 3rd runway at Heathrow is assumed to happen.