DfT spending £5.5 million on airspace change, to “drive improvements to UK’s ‘motorways in the sky’”

There is much talk, in the DfT and the CAA about “modernising airspace”. The main aim is to make it easier for more aircraft to use UK airspace safely. It means more planes flying along exactly the same route – which the DfT refers to as “motorways in the sky.”  The industry would also like to get the amount of noise nuisance from aviation to be as low as is possible with ever more planes. There has never been any satisfactory solution to whether to fly most planes over fewer routes (concentrated routes) or to fly planes on more routes. So the choice is affecting a smaller number of people very severely, or a larger number less badly.  There has never been decision on the alternatives. The concept of “respite” is popular with some – so more planes fly a certain route part of the time, giving those under another route some rest from the noise – then switching the two. Now the DfT has announced it is spending £5.5 million will (in the greenwash) “support airports to develop and evaluate design options aimed at making journeys quicker, quieter and cleaner.”  It will “deliver for all the UK.”  And help the sector to “build back better.” … The main aim is to fit in more flights, and ensure planes do not stack on their arrival at an airport.


£5.5 million to drive improvements to UK’s ‘motorways in the sky’

[Read with greenwash detectors fully operating.]

For the first time since the 1950s, airport modernisation receives support to help make journeys faster, quieter and greener.

  • up to £5.5 million made available to support airports in reducing journey times, pollution and delays
  • funding will aid industry as it develops and evaluates new flight routes to modernise UK airspace
  • move will play a vital role in the Civil Aviation Authority’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy ready for when travel restrictions lift

The UK’s ‘motorways in the sky’ are on track to be redesigned for the first time since the 1950s, thanks to a £5.5 million investment announced today (19 March 2021).

Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there were approximately 7,000 aircraft in UK airspace, [sic] dependent on a complex network of routes that allows planes to operate safely. However, since these flight paths were initially mapped out decades ago, growing numbers of routes and a surge in demand has resulted in an increase in delays, noise and pollution.

The £5.5 million fund announced today will support airports to develop and evaluate design options aimed at making journeys quicker, quieter and cleaner.

Although national lockdown restrictions remain in place, meaning everyone must stay at home unless travelling for a very limited set of reasons, this work will help the sector build back better and greener from the pandemic.

Aviation Minister Robert Courts said:As an island nation, our airspace is vital in keeping us connected to the rest of the world.Modernising our ‘sky motorways’ could put an end to the days of circling the airport waiting for a landing slot, improving efficiency, and leading to flights that are quicker, quieter and greener than ever before.

Mark Swan, Head of the Airspace Change Organising Group (ACOG), said:

We’re delighted that the government has reaffirmed the essential role that airspace modernisation will play in helping the aviation industry to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to work with our partners across the industry to ensure this programme is one that delivers for all of the UK.

Creating more efficient and streamlined airspace, not only benefits airports and airlines but also the passengers and communities surrounding them, through reduced emissions, lower levels of noise pollution and fewer delays.The investment has been made available to airports involved in the Airspace Modernisation Strategy to ensure this vital project remains on track, reflecting the government’s commitment to modernising the airways while supporting the aviation sector as we recover from the pandemic.

The government has also put in place one of the most comprehensive packages of business support in the world, pledging around £7 billion for the aviation sector since the start of the pandemic while working to develop a framework for the restart of safe and sustainable international travel.

The Global Travel Taskforce will publish its recommendations next month, with international travel resuming from 17 May at the earliest.


Information about the Airspace Modernisation Strategy

from the CAA

Airspace modernisation co-sponsor update (July 2020):

The Government and the Civil Aviation Authority have asserted our continued commitment to airspace modernisation in a joint statement and we have set out further detail on how we intend to review work on airspace modernisation going forward, including the need to consider how individual organisations may progress airspace changes in these uncertain times. 

The CAA has published its finalised Airspace Modernisation Strategy (AMS). The new strategy is in response to the Department for Transport tasking the Civil Aviation Authority with preparing and maintaining a co-ordinated strategy and plan for the use of UK airspace up to 2040, including modernisation.

The AMS replaces the Future Airspace Strategy and sets out the ways, means and ends of modernising airspace through 15 initiatives that will modernise the design, technology and operations of airspace, initially focusing on the period until the end of 2024. These include the removal of all fixed routes in upper airspace so aircraft can fly fully optimised routes, a fundamental redesign of the terminal route network using precise and flexible satellite navigation, and the focus on electronic surveillance solutions to improve safety and enable better integration of all airspace users. The AMS is published following public engagement earlier in 2018, which saw hundreds of people have their say.

The structure of the UK’s airspace has remained the same for decades, despite an increase in demand from its users. According to research conducted by NATS, flights in UK airspace are forecast to grow from 2.25 million per year in 2015 to 3.25 million in 2030 (an increase of 44 per cent). If nothing changes, more and more flights will be delayed at UK airports each year. Without modernisation,  NATS predict an average of 26.5 minutes of delay per delayed flight, with more than 1 in 3 flights from all UK airports expected to depart over half an hour late due to a shortfall in airspace capacity. Other airspace users, including drone and spacecraft operators, general aviation and the military are also wanting increased access to this infrastructure and other stakeholders such as local communities want adverse impacts to be better mitigated.  Modernisation is critical to ensure that this invisible piece of the UK’s national infrastructure is fit for purpose for the future.

The AMS sets out a new shared objective between the Civil Aviation Authority and the Department for Transport for modernising airspace which is to deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys and more capacity for the benefit of those who use and are affected by UK airspace. This new strategy will allow the UK to provide more choice and value for consumers, allowing airlines to add new flights, reducing flight delays and enhancing global connections that can help boost the UK economy, while continuing to improve safety standards and helping make journeys more environmentally friendly. Coupled with the adoption of new technology by existing airspace users, it will also help pave the way for increased safe access for newer airspace users like drones and spacecraft.

The increase in traffic may lead to an increase in noise in some areas, or the concentration of traffic can focus noise over a smaller area. While it is impossible to reduce the impact of aviation noise for all communities, it is important that noise is managed as well as possible. Airports should also consider whether they can develop airspace change proposals to reduce noise, i.e. to reduce the total adverse health effects of noise.

The strategy also presents a new governance structure which sets out the industry’s responsibility for its delivery and how relevant stakeholders will be a part of that process. The AMS does not propose any specific airspace changes but suggests that a masterplan of changes that will be necessary for modernisation should be developed. Any individual airspace changes that are developed either in response to this strategy or for any other reasons will go through the CAA’s airspace change process (as set out in CAP 1616), to include consultation with affected stakeholders which, depending on the circumstances, includes communities on the ground and other airspace users.




DfT and CAA update on airspace modernisation: March 2021

Updated 19 March 2021