The Airport Operators Association has welcomed £5.5 million government funding to remobilise the UK’s airspace change programme.

Chief executive Karen Dee described airspace modernisation as being essential for aviation to “build back better” following the pandemic.

It should mean that a recovery of 2019 passenger levels does not come with the same noise impacts and carbon emissions.

The first revamp to the UK’s so-called ‘motorways in the sky’ since the 1950s was announced by the Department for Transport.

“The £5.5 million fund announced today will support airports to develop and evaluate design options aimed at making journeys quicker, quieter and cleaner,” the DfT said.

“Before the coronavirus pandemic, there were approximately 7,000 aircraft 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, growing numbers of routes and a surge in demand has resulted in an increase in delays, noise and pollution.

“Although national lockdown restrictions remain in place, meaning everyone must stay at home unless travelling for a very limited set of reasons, this work will help the sector build back better and greener from the pandemic.”

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.”

 Dee said: “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 achieve aviation’s net zero by 2050 commitment.”