Airspace change programme

The Government has said that the existing UK airspace design, specifically above Southern England, is approaching the limit of its design capacity. The structure of the UK's airspace has remained the same for decades, despite the growing number of flights.

Department for Transport analysis predicted that there will be a sustained and significant increase in air traffic movements at all Southern England airports, driven by increasing passenger demand. This additional traffic will place further pressures on existing airspace capacity. Without a complete redesign of the airspace above Southern England, together with airport airspace and procedures, the consequences will be increasing delays and disruption, personal and commercial costs and unnecessary environmental impacts.

As part of a wider review of aviation strategy the Government has directed the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to develop a strategy to modernise UK airspace. The CAA developed and consulted on an initial draft of this strategy in 2018 and the final version of the Airspace Modernisation Strategy was published in December 2018.

The process to modernise UK airspace is underway. It is, however, a very complex issue. The Q&A below is designed to help you understand both the national aspects of the modernisation programme and also how it will impact Southampton International Airport.

What is Airspace?

Airspace is the network of routes – or corridors - in the sky above us that allow aircraft to fly safely. 

Our airspace is an incredibly valuable piece of national infrastructure and keeps us connected with the rest of the world. It is vital for moving people and goods around the world securely, quickly and on time.

What is the airspace modernisation programme?

The Government and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) believe that airspace modernisation is needed and is leading a programme to modernise and redesign UK airspace. The CAA’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy, published in December 2018, offers comprehensive non-technical guidance on the scope and objectives of the modernisation programme. 

The aviation industry is coming together to support the Government and the CAA to deliver a coordinated airspace modernisation programme. There are 17 airports, including Southampton International Airport, working together with the Government to redesign UK airspace.

Why is airspace modernisation needed?

Airspace modernisation is needed as demand for air travel has increased steadily but the design of UK airspace has not changed significantly since the 1950s.

Demand for air travel is expected to grow steadily over the coming years and without modernisation the skies above the UK will become increasingly congested. This could see delay soar to 50 times what they are today, with one in three flights delayed by 30+ minutes in 2030 if there are no airspace changes.

The National Air Traffic Service (NATS) has produced the below video to explain why airspace modernisation is needed and to outline what changes it will involve: The Sky’s the Limit

What are the benefits of modernisation?

Modernising the UK’s airspace has many potential benefits and will help to make journeys quicker, quieter and cleaner.

It will deliver more capacity to help keep the UK moving by reducing delays and improving the resilience of flights, so we can all be more confident that both holidays and time spent travelling for work will not be affected by unnecessary airspace disruption.

Modernisation will also provide more choice and better value for money for passengers, as well as create opportunities to open up more destinations.

The increased capacity will also directly support jobs and generate economic benefits by allowing businesses to grow by making flying abroad a more reliable means of transport. Modernisation will also create opportunities to reduce or limit environmental impacts including carbon and noise. For example, new, more precise flight paths have the potential to avoid populated areas and provide multiple routes to distribute noise and offer ‘planned breaks’, or respite from noise. While airspace modernisation will reduce noise impacts for some people, others may experience more noise.

Today’s modern aircraft will also be more able to fly to their full capability with quicker climbs and later descents to help reduce the noise footprint on the ground. There will also be less need for stacking (where aircraft join a circular queue to land at busy airports) bringing noise benefits to those who live beneath them.

How will airspace modernisation work at Southampton International Airport?

A change of this scale and complexity requires the active involvement of a wide range of industry stakeholders.  In recognition of this, the Aviation Minister wrote to all major London airports seeking their commitment to a programme of airspace modernisation covering the South of England – called the Future Airspace Strategy Implementation (FASI) -South Programme. (Separate projects will cover airspace modernisation for the rest of the UK)

Along with 17 other airports, Southampton International Airport is fully engaged in this process which will involve the re-design its departure and arrival routes and procedures up to 7000 feet

The National Air Traffic Service (NATS) have been commissioned by the Government to manage the airspace change for the South of England over 7000 feet.

What airspace will be modernised at Southampton International Airport?

The fundamental redesign of airspace above 7000 feet by NATS means that Southampton International Airport’s arrival and departure routes must be redesigned using satellite-based navigation techniques.

Southampton International Airport’s redesigned arrival and departure routes will need to be carefully integrated with NATS’ redesign of airspace above 7000 feet and with the airspace changes with neighbouring airports.  This means that a significant degree of joint engagement and consultation will be required during the modernisation process - including with local stakeholders - to inform design principles and to appraise the options for change.

What will the programme to modernise the UK’s airspace look like and how does Southampton International Airport fit into this?

  • The Government is currently consulting on its Aviation 2050 Strategy, which makes the case for modernising our skies. The consultation ends in April 2019.
  • NATS will consult with a wide range of stakeholders on changes to the structure of the route network at higher levels – above 7000 feet.
  • Airports across the UK will consult with local communities about changes to their departure and arrival routes.
  • The Civil Aviation Authority will then assess and decide on the proposals put forward by NATS and airports, and feed back to the Government.

What is the timeline for Southampton International Airport’s airspace modernisation programme?

The early stages of this major change process are underway (see below), but the Government has said the total FASI-S programme final designs will not begin to be implemented until the winter of 2024/25. Southampton International Airport intends to implement the airspace modernisation in the local area in early 2023.

2019 Engagement with stakeholders to gather early views on design principles
2019/20 Develop and asses airspace design options
2020 Public consultation to seek views of people potentially affected by proposed designs
2022 Update proposed design and submit to CAA
2022 CAA to assess Southampton International Airport’s proposal for airspace modernisation
2023 Implementation

What are the next steps?

Southampton International Airport is in the process of engaging with stakeholders including airlines, other airports, local officials and community groups to start gathering early views on design principles for Southampton International Airport’s airspace modernisation before starting to work on design options. 

All material that Southampton International Airport uses to engage with these stakeholder groups is available on the CAA Airspace Change Portal, where anyone can register an interest in Southampton International Airport’s component of the FASI-South airspace change process to receive alerts whenever new material is added or updated.

How will the airspace modernisation be guided?

All airports must follow the CAA’s Airspace Change process, which can be found here.

The Government and CAA have also put new policies in place emphasising engagement and consultation so as to ensure that decision making for any airspace change is fair and transparent.  This includes setting up a new Independent Commission for Civil Aviation Noise (ICCAN), to advise government on how the needs of affected communities can best be served.

Where can I find more information on airspace modernisation


Civil Aviation Authority

National Air Traffic Service