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UK airspace change - background

Modernisation of the UK’s airspace is required to accommodate growing demand for air travel, regardless of the expansion of Heathrow. The Government has embarked on their ‘Future Airspace Strategy’ (FAS), led by the CAA, to modernise the UK’s airspace.


The aim of the strategy is to make the airspace more efficient; improve punctuality; cut CO2 emissions; reduce noise from less aircraft-holding at low levels; and to ensure there is capacity to meet future demand. The FAS will require all UK airports to modernise, as well as the network that sits above these airports which is known as en-route airspace. FAS is also part of a Europe-wide modernisation project, called the Single European Sky, to make the skies above Europe more efficient.

The Government’s ‘Strategic Rationale for Upgrading the UK Airspace’ provides more information on the need for airspace modernisation in the UK and describes the upgrades planned.

Changes that are made to accommodate a third runway at Heathrow will need to fit in with the changing airspace of the UK and Europe. Heathrow is working closely with the other airports in the south-east of England to develop an integrated approach to airspace modernisation.

70 years of UK air traffic

NATS has produced videos on how aircraft at different altitudes are seen from the ground – including this one on the history of UK air traffic.

See more at www.nats.aero/environment.

Performance Based Navigation (PBN)

The introduction of Performance Based Navigation (PBN) is key to achieving the aims of the Future Airspace Strategy (FAS). PBN improves the accuracy of where aircraft fly by moving away from ‘conventional’ navigation, using ground-based beacons, to satellite navigation.

As Heathrow’s airspace and the routes aircraft fly are redesigned to accommodate the expansion of the airport and a new runway, we will move to using PBN.

PBN is being introduced across the world. This new technology allows more flexible positioning of routes and enables aircraft to fly them more accurately. This helps improve operational performance and reduce delays.

However, enabling aircraft to follow an allocated route more precisely will potentially lead to routes becoming narrower and more concentrated than today and we recognise that this concentration of aircraft is a concern to local communities.

Heathrow is committed to working with local communities and with the aviation industry to find ways to implement PBN without a significant increase in the noise impact for our surrounding communities. We have been discussing options with local stakeholders in Heathrow’s regular community engagement forums over the last few years, including the Heathrow Community Noise Forum.

For more information on PBN you may like to read the Civial Aviation Authority’s (CAA) document on “Airspace Design Guidance: noise mitigation considerations when designing PBN departure and arrival routes” (also known as CAP1378).

What area will Heathrow's airspace review cover?

Heathrow’s review of its airspace will consider flights up to an altitude of approximately 9,000ft. This is where our routes connect to the wider airspace network above the UK.

Changes to airspace above this are the responsibility of NATS (the national air traffic service providers) rather than Heathrow, and any changes to this upper airspace will be taken forward by NATS.

Airspace Principles Consultation Document

To view the consultation booklet for our airspace principles consultation please use the link below.
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