Modernising the airspace for a brighter future

Posted: 13 December 2022 | | No comments yet

Dan Edwards, Head of Environment at the Airspace Change Organising Group, tells International Airport Review how airspace modernisation will positively impact airports, the economy and environment.

Post-pandemic recovery of the aviation sector is finally taking flight in the wake of what has been a uniquely challenging period for the industry. Passengers are travelling once again, and airlines are increasing services to meet the demand – a truly positive sight. 

Be it the airlines, the passengers, or the travel operators – getting the aviation sector back up and running after what it has been through the last few years has been tough — sudden growth on an unprecedented scale.

For airports in the UK on the road to recovery, there is also an often overlooked but significant challenge they are working through behind the scenes: airspace modernisation.

The UK’s airspace is critical national infrastructure. However, much of the UK’s airspace was designed in the 1950s, and it was never envisaged that our airspace would need to cope with the volume of flights that it does today. Over time, as the network of routes has expanded and evolved, the basic airspace structures have remained largely unchanged, creating several issues that have worsened over time and will continue to deteriorate without some essential changes.

There are several drivers for modernising airspace, including significant economic and environmental benefits, and ACOG has a key role to play in helping to deliver them.

As airport traffic ramps up, so will the possibility of delays – which threaten to restrict profits, interrupt flights and freight and reduce passengers’ confidence in air travel. 

Modernising airspace, which means updating its structural design and the air traffic systems on which it runs, won’t just solve these issues; it will also help to keep the country moving and enable additional capacity while making journeys quicker, quieter and cleaner: more efficient flying will mean fewer miles flown per aircraft leading to less fuel being burnt and carbon emitted.

However, airspace modernisation is no easy feat and is a long and complex process. There are 22 UK airports involved in the modernisation programme, all of whom must follow a detailed airspace change process set by the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). This process, known as CAP1616, has seven stages with a significant focus on stakeholder engagement and consultation.

There are several drivers for modernising airspace, including significant economic and environmental benefits, and ACOG has a key role to play in helping to deliver them”

ACOG’s role is to align this separate airspace changes proposals and identify the potential areas of overlap between the airports and what compromises or ‘trade-offs’ may be necessary to integrate them effectively. This information is all being brought together in what is known as the Airspace Masterplan. The Masterplan is being created in iterations to reflect the fact that different information and levels of detail will be available at different points as the airspace change proposals in the programme.

Airspace modernisation is already well underway, and we can expect benefits to start being delivered as early as 2025. In time, it will help prevent delays for holidaymakers, businesses, and cargo, as well as enhancing the UK’s global connections and boosting the UK economy. And by creating more direct routes and less congestion, upgrading our airspace will also reduce the environmental impact of flights.

In a few years’ time, you could be sitting on a flight with the knowledge that you are taking the most efficient route from A to B, saving noise, emissions, and time. The collaborative efforts of ACOG, airports and the wider aviation industry are working hard to get us there.


Dan Edwards is Head of Environmental Strategy at the Airspace Change Organising Group, the Group set up by the UK Government and its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), to ensure the coordination of the UK’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy. Dan’s role is to ensure the Airspace Change Masterplan maximises the environmental benefits the upgrade will bring to the UK.

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