A call for radical improvements to UK airspace to free up capacity and efficiency has come from aviation bosses.

Proposals to enhance the airspace system, through a Future Airspace Strategy (FAS), that will increase airspace capacity, improve flight efficiency and reduce aviation’s environmental impact were discussed yesterday at a conference organised by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Key aviation figures addressing the issue included CAA chief executive Andrew Haines; easyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall; Heathrow chief executive Colin Matthews and National Air Traffic Services operations managing director Martin Rolfe.

They heard that the UK’s current airspace system has not been significantly updated for more than 40 years and that the FAS project will deliver significant benefits for air passengers, the aviation industry and the environment.

Haines said: “Every day we hear discussions about a shortage in capacity for aviation in the UK, especially in the southeast of England.

“Much of the comment centres on airport runway capacity. But in some areas airspace capacity is also a major factor. It has a significant impact on the overall efficiency of aviation and also its impact on the environment.

“For airlines the airspace system can be a key determinant of fuel burn, punctuality and runway utilisation.

“But, unlike the tricky subject of extra runway capacity, airspace is much more under the aviation sector’s control; indeed we can make significant improvements now.”

Key improvements that FAS can deliver include:

· Allowing aircraft continuous climb-outs on takeoff that get aircraft to their optimum cruising altitude as quickly as possible;
· Providing aircraft with more efficient routings that save time and fuel;
· Better management of arrivals at airports, such as reducing the time aircraft are in holding stacks;
· Linking the whole aviation network together to share up-to-date flight information, thereby enabling better operational decisions and increasing resilience to unexpected events;
· Using the latest technology throughout the system to increase airspace capacity and safety.

This includes the use of ‘performance-based navigation’ that allow aircraft to use satellite navigation, instead of ground-based navigational aids, to fly much more accurate routes.

The CAA will be consulting on a mandate to implement the new method in certain areas of the UK’s controlled airspace.

Work on some of the FAS projects is already underway aiming to ensure UK airspace is “fit for purpose” out to 2030.

The FAS strategy has been developed in collaboration with airlines, airports, air traffic control bodies, general and business aviation, the UK and Ireland aviation authorities, the Department for Transport and Ministry of Defence.

These organisations will now start work on implementing the strategy in the UK and tying it into European projects such as the European Commission’s Single European Sky initiative, which aims to streamline the way airspace is used throughout the continent.