AOA - The Airport Operator: Summer 2023 Magazine

Christopher Snelling: AOA Policy Director

The biggest immediate collective project facing UK aviation is the modernisation of our airspace. The benefits are significant, the need pressing and yet the path to quick progress is not certain.

As DfT themselves know, modernisation will add capacity to the system through more efficient airspace, address ‘hotspots’ of congestion and improve choice and value for passengers and shippers of freight. Fewer flight delays and service disruptions at short notice would save time and improve the passenger experience through shorter journeys with a more reliable service. It could allow many airports to manage noise effects on local communities better. Perhaps above all, Sustainable Aviation estimates the modernisation of our airspace could reduce aviation greenhouse gas emissions by 4%, a key part of the road map to net-zero 2050.

Of course, airspace modernisation projects do progress, making minor improvements in places across the country. The issue is with the major collective changes – known as Future Airspace Strategy Implementation (FASI). There appear to be two separate issues here – one affecting the whole UK, another just the extended London area.

The UK-wide issue is financing. Currently airports have to pay upfront for the development of modernised airspace. However, the direct commercial benefits accrue to airlines, possibly even airlines flying out of a different airport. Given this, and the constrained financial situation airports and the whole 
economy are in, there is a high likelihood that some airports will not wish to proceed – certainly not at 
the pace of others.

The London issue is that the overlapping complexity of the many airports’ needs are difficult to address. 

Earlier this year the Government’s Aviation Council tasked industry with developing proposals to unlock 
progress. The DfT asked AOA’s Karen Dee to chair an industry discussion involving airports and airlines and then to draw together an industry position paper. This was done and proposed solutions were put to the next meeting in May. 

These were, essentially: to resolves the London impasse by creating a single design entity to create a plan which each airport would then work to in their application; and to resolve the UK wide issue by creating an upfront financing mechanism (albeit industry-funded overall). 

Full Report - Pages 42-43