The aviation industry has continually created debate about a shortage in aviation capacity in the UK resulting in a push for growth. London airport foreign owners often try to link their desire for profits and expansion to the needs of the UK economy. Aviation expansion typically focuses on runway infrastructure and this is what the Airports Commission (AC) was set up to investigate capacity in the Southeast of England. The final AC recommendation announced July 2015 has been found to be flawed. It has also been shown that the capacity crisis is a myth.
Another ‘crisis’ created by the aviation industry concerns airspace usage. The aviation industry, pushing for greater flight volumes and even more profits, requires extremely efficient usage of our airspace. They claim current airspace is a major factor limiting capacity now and that the UK airspace system was designed over 40 years ago, that it has not been comprehensively updated since that time and that it is designed around aviation capabilities of decades of old technology. In reality, they want to triple current flight volumes and this quest for more planes in the sky cannot be achieved with the current airspace structure.
In 2008, the Transport Select Committee held an enquiry into UK airspace. Based on evidence provided by the aviation industry, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) drew up a Future Airspace Strategy (FAS) to modernise the UK airspace system. All of this change is being driven by European legislation to modernise European airspace. The FAS strategy ties in with a European airspace initiative called SES and with a global program to streamline and automate the aviation industry, SESAR.
Domestic, European and Global Alignment
It is claimed that the modernisation of UK airspace will support the UK Government’s aviation policy objective – to maintain the country’s international hub connectivity. In the near term, the CAA says that FAS initiatives can increase existing runway capacity. Over the longer term (beyond 2020) modernisation of UK airspace will enhance the aviation sector’s ability to adapt to future airport developments and increasing flight volume growth and possibly airport expansion.
En-route airspace managed collectively by the UK and Ireland is called a Functional Airspace Block (FAB). Airspace in the UK and Ireland FAB is not being developed in isolation. The Single European Sky (SES) initiative was established to tackle inefficient, costly and fragmented airspace structures across Europe. The UK FAS Deployment Plan contributes to the implementation of European SES objectives. In particular, through local deployment of solutions developed within the global SESAR programme. On the global stage, FAS is aligned to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Aviation System Block Upgrades (ASBUs) and the US ‘Next Gen’ Program.
The UK’s FAB application is below:
IN BOTH OF THESE PLANS, THE WORD ‘NOISE’ CAN ONLY BE FOUND ONCE!
The UK FAS Deployment Plan
The UK FAS Deployment Plan relates to the first phase of FAS implementation between 2013 to 2020. This plan has been developed in a collaborative way with Air Navigation Service Providers (NATS in the UK), aircraft operators, airports, the military and regulators all represented on the FAS Industry Implementation Group (FASIIG).
Implications for the public in terms of noise and pollution and their interest in these plans have been overlooked. In fact, the industry see the public response to their plans as a high level risk to successful implementation.
The FAS deployment plan includes multiple initiatives that claim to focus on improving the way air traffic is managed and moves around the sky, including:
- Implementing a more efficient route network
- Removing fixed structures in the upper airspace enabling more direct routes
- Streaming traffic through speed control and improving arrival punctuality to manage queuing and reduce stack holding
- Re-designing departure procedures to allow aircraft to climb continuously and increase runway throughput – Performance Based Navigation (PBN)
- Connecting airports electronically into the network to share accurate information and to better sequence departures and arrivals.
Under FAS, plans to optimise the capacity of the London Terminal Control Areas (TMAs) airspace have been developed as part of the London Airspace Management Programme (LAMP). LAMP is part of the FAS deliverables expected of NATS via the license granted to them by the CAA.
The CAA claims that the first phase of FAS implementation is expected to:
- Generate airspace capacity to accommodate forecast demand out to 2025
- Save over 160,000 tonnes of fuel per year (with an estimate net present value to operators of £907m to £1.17bn out to 2030)
- Save over 1.4m minutes of operator’s time per year, reducing maintenance and crew costs (with an estimate net present value to operators of £338m – £441m out to 2030)
- Save over 1.1m minutes of passenger delay per year (valued as the opportunity cost of passenger’s time at £446m – £588m out to 2030)
- Save over 500,000 tonnes of aviation CO2 emissions per year (valued as the forecast price of carbon at £188m to £241m out to 2030)
- Enhance safety by reducing controller and pilot workload and designing out risk factors
High Priority Risks
The CAA has identified a number of high priority risks to the successful implementation of their plans for the airspace above our heads. These risks are based on the CAA’s experience of previous UK airspace re-design and operational improvement initiatives. Key risks include:
- the redistribution of the impact of aircraft noise
- mixed fleet equipage levels
- the uncertainty associated with regulatory change processes
From the CAA’s FAB submission:
“This investment (LAMP) will require extensive public consultation, with most of the south-east of England being affected by the revised airspace structure, and predominantly at levels where noise contours are more noticeable. With some 28.9 million people within the area of interest, this investment requires a far greater level of engagement than is usually the case with airspace developments, with a greater risk of adverse public and political reaction. Previous experience of large scale consultations has resulted in the project working closely with the CAA to develop a new approach to such a potentially contentious development.”
We have not yet determined what the CAA’s new approach to implementing changes impacting 28.9 million people in the South East of the UK will be, but believe that the issues many communities are experiencing NOW from flights concentrated within NPR’s, planes flying much lower for much longer than ever before, high frequency of vectoring off Navigation Preference Route’s, stack usage changes in the Heathrow area as well as a massive increase in noise levels significantly impacting those on the ground, all relate to efforts to implement changes relevant to the plans outlined above.