The need for airspace modernisation

We need to modernise our airspace to meet the growing demand for flights in a safe, efficient and environmentally sustainable way.

The UK’s airspace handles around 2.5 million flights a year, carrying over 270 million passengers. Flights are forecast to grow to 3.25 million by 2030, with passenger numbers increasing to 355 million.

The structure of our airspace was established over 40 years ago and to meet the predicted demand without delaying passengers or having to cancel flights, we need to modernise our airspace. If we don’t, delays faced by passengers are likely to soar, with 1 in 3 flights delayed by half an hour or more by 2030.

That is why it is essential that the industry, the Government and the Civil Aviation Authority work together with local communities to upgrade our airspace.

Industry has already taken the first steps: UK airlines have introduced over 470 cleaner and quieter aircraft into service since 2005, to benefit passengers and communities around airports, representing a c.£36 billion investment. We now need to invest in our airspace to make best use of the capabilities of these modern aircraft by redesigning flight paths and introducing new technologies. This will increase capacity, reduce the impact on the environment and further improve aviation safety.

The investments will benefit passengers and the economy by connecting the UK to more destinations. Plans to modernise the airspace across Europe are expected to deliver over £29bn to UK GDP and create 116,000 jobs by 2035.

Modernisation will reduce aviation’s impact on the environment. Better operating procedures will reduce CO2 emissions from UK aviation by up to 14% by 2050 according to Sustainable Aviation. Aircraft could also fly routes designed to avoid noise-sensitive areas or provide a more equitable spread of noise.

Alongside the introduction of quieter aircraft, this means modernisation has ‘the potential to reduce UK aviation noise output by 2050 compared to 2010’, according to Sustainable Aviation.

There will also be benefits to business and leisure fliers. Simpler airspace structures and boundaries will improve safety; and implementing continuous climb and descent operations for commercial air traffic has the potential to release some lower levels of controlled airspace.

Our commitment

The UK aviation industry is committed to ensuring the UK has the air links that will connect us to the world and to delivering a sustainable future for our industry.

During the last 10 years, through the Sustainable Aviation coalition, UK airlines have delivered a reduction of over 20 million tonnes of CO2. Over the same period, we have reduced noise contour areas – the measurement used by Government to assess community annoyance – by 14% around major UK airports.

We are focused on finding collaborative ways of improving our environmental performance, recognising that the views of local communities must be an integral and fundamental part of the process to ensure sustainable growth of our industry.

Our ask of Government

Airspace modernisation is a pillar of the CAA’s Future Airspace Strategy and of the UK’s infrastructure; it can support the economy and meet the UK’s environmental objectives.

We welcome the UK airspace policy and urge Government to maintain its support and advocacy as they develop their Aviation Strategy and as industry comes forward with proposals.

We also believe that airspace should be included in the remit of the National Infrastructure Commission.

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