UK transport chief pledges action on airspace

British transport secretary Chris Grayling has acknowledged the airline industry’s “frustration” with delays in UK airspace modernisation, pledging to launch a consultation on measures to support airspace modernisation,

Speaking to a UK airline industry event, Grayling said: “We must make the best use of the assets available to us. As airlines often point out, our airspace is one such asset: a critical piece of national infrastructure. But like much of the rest of our infrastructure, it is increasingly congested and modernisation is overdue.”

“While modern aircraft are fitted with the latest satellite navigation technology, most of our airspace arrangements are half a century old. I know how frustrated you and your passengers are by the delays this causes. And I recognise the damage it does to your businesses.

“Without action, flight delays will increase enormously in the next few years. This wouldn’t just be damaging for passengers, but also for the economy and the environment.

“That is why I am determined to address this challenge. We will shortly be launching a consultation on measures to support airspace modernisation. These measures will provide for the use of modern technology. To reduce delays, cut noise for local communities, and lower carbon emissions.”

Responding to the speech delivered at the Airlines UK Annual Dinner, Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “Airspace modernisation is a critical, but sometimes overlooked part of our national infrastructure. The UK’s airspace was created over 50 years ago when there were just half a million planes in the sky. It was never designed for the record number of aircraft, around 2.4 million in 2015, which now travel through it.

“We know that airspace redesign can present major challenges for airports, and good community engagement will be a vital part of the process. That said, to ensure capacity can keep pace with demand, airspace modernisation is urgently required and, without it, delays faced by passengers are likely to soar to 4 million minutes by 2030.

“However, airspace modernisation wouldn’t just increase capacity and help prevent such sustained delays. Flying more direct routes will also reduce fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions, lessening aviation’s impact on the climate and local air quality – and in the process seeing a substantial reduction in aviation emissions.”   

An industry coalition representing airports, airlines and air traffic control which launched in December warned of major flight delays unless widespread changes were made to UK airspace.

Research by NATS showed that delays are set to rise from around 90,000 minutes a year today to 4 million by 2030 unless the UK’s ageing network of airspace structures and flight paths is redesigned to make use of modern aircraft technology.

The Sky’s the Limit group also highlighted that significant environmental benefits are being missed as aircraft are forced to fly longer and further than necessary  because of the failure of successive governments to commit to airspace modernisation.

Without redesigning the UK’s network of flight paths and airways, it is feared that it simply won’t cope with the growth in traffic forecast over the coming years, with 3.1 million flights a year expected in the UK by 2030, up from 2 million flights in 2015.

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