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Aviation strategy and airspace change: an update

4th April, 2019

The Government is currently consulting on its long-term strategy for UK aviation, including its environmental policies, and published a consultation on its Green Paper last December. Originally due to close in April, the Government announced at the beginning of March that the deadline would be extended until 20th June, partly to allow respondents to consider the advice from the Government’s climate expert body, the CCC, on how to treat aviation in the context of the stringent climate change goals set out in the Paris Agreement. This advice from the CCC is due out on 2nd May. (AEF had written to the Aviation Minister to express concern about the mismatch in schedules.)

Meanwhile one part of the consultation still has a deadline of 11th April for responses, namely the proposal set out in Annex A of the Green Paper for the Government to be given powers to force airports to bring forward airspace change applications. The Government and the CAA are jointly commissioning NATS to develop an airspace change masterplan. The Government now wants to be able to require airports to initiate and undertake changes (following the CAA’s new process) if they are necessary to deliver the master plan, even in cases where airports see no immediate operational or environmental case for making the change. If they fail to do this, the Government wants the power to hand over responsibility for delivering the change to NERL (NATS En Route, which generally deals with changes at higher altitudes). 

Granting these new powers would require new primary legislation and DfT doesn’t want to miss its window of opportunity for this hence pressing ahead with this bit of the strategy consultation in isolation. We’re preparing a response to Annex A, and have asked our members for their views. We’re minded to oppose this step given that:

  • The primary motivation for airspace change nationally is to facilitate growth, and in the absence of an appropriate environmental framework we can’t support this
  • If the Government wants to delegate management of noise and potentially carbon impacts to the local level, it should not then steamroller over local processes to force through airspace changes in cases where airports do not see an economic or environmental case for them.

Our final response will be available on our website after the consultation closes.