UK airspace modernisation programme to benefit from £5.5 million in government funding

Following a report published in July 2020 by the Airspace Change Organising Group, the UK government has announced £5.5 million in funding to support the UK’s airspace modernisation programme.

UAE UK airspace modernisation programme to benefit from £5.5 million funding

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

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

The £5.5 million fund 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 that everyone must stay at home unless travelling for a very limited set of reasons, this work will help the sector to build back better and greener from the pandemic.

The UK’s 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.”

Creating a 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 UK Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) Airspace Modernisation Strategy (AMS) to ensure that this vital project remains on track, reflecting the UK government’s commitment to modernising the airways while supporting the aviation sector as the UK recovers from the pandemic.

In July 2020, the Airspace Change Organising Group (ACOG) published a new report, ‘Remobilising Airspace Change’, which highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on the current UK airspace modernisation programme and set out key recommendations to remobilise the national programme of airspace change.

The report demonstrated the severe impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the industry and, in particular, on UK airports’ ability to take forward the national programme of airspace change. It highlighted that a shortage of funding and uncertainty surrounding the programme put at risk the national benefits that upgrading the UK’s airspace will deliver.

The Department for Transport (DfT) and CAA, as co-sponsors of the UK’s airspace modernisation, released a statement in July 2020 confirming a continued commitment to airspace modernisation and the need to consider how individual organisations may progress airspace change in response to the ACOG report.

Three of ACOG’s recommendations (1, 2 and 4) were immediately accepted, and the DfT and CAA committed to thoroughly consider the remaining recommendations in further detail. One of ACOG’s recommendations was to consider financial support for the future airspace strategy implementation (FASI) initiatives of the CAA’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy.

As a result, the UK government’s announcement that it would be providing funding to enable FASI airspace change through a grant administrated by the CAA was welcomed by ACOG.

Industry responses

Airspace Change Organising Group (ACOG)

Responding to the announcement, Head of ACOG, Mark Swan said: “We are 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. The funding granted today gives UK airports the backing that they need to continue this critical programme of upgrading airspace and supporting the government’s ambition to deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys.”

“The UK’s airspace is an essential, but invisible, part of its national transport infrastructure. This programme will help the UK to build the post-Brexit trading infrastructure that it needs – our routes in the sky – while driving the industry forward on its journey to ‘jet zero’, with simpler, more direct routes reducing carbon emissions. We will continue work with stakeholders across the industry to ensure that this programme is one that delivers for all of the UK,” he added.

Airport Operators Association (AOA)

Responding to the government’s announcement that will see the remobilisation of the UK’s airspace change programme, Airport Operators Association’s (AOA) Chief Executive, Karen Dee, said: “Airspace modernisation will be essential for aviation to build back better, so that a recovery to 2019 passenger levels does not come with 2019’s noise impacts and carbon emissions. The funding announced today gives airports the necessary support to continue this crucial programme of upgrading the UK’s airspace and deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys.”

“The UK’s airspace is our invisible infrastructure in the sky, vital to the UK’s connectivity and to the delivery of government agendas, like global Britain. We look forward to working with government and the Airspace Change Organising Group to deliver modernisation and to help to achieve aviation’s net zero by 2050 commitment,” she concluded.

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