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The majority of UK flight paths were designed decades ago, at a time when aircraft and navigation were much less sophisticated than today. A nationwide airspace modernisation programme is therefore underway across UK airports.

Modernisation of the UK’s airspace is required to accommodate growing demand for air travel in a sustainable way. The Government has embarked on its airspace modernisation strategy which is being sponsored by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Department for Transport.

The aim of the strategy is to make airspace more efficient, to improve punctuality, to reduce CO2 emissions, to reduce noise and to ensure there is capacity to meet future demand. The strategy will require UK airports to modernise their airspace, as well as the airspace network above them, known as en route airspace. The UK’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy is part of ICAO’s Global Air Navigation Plan.  

The Government’s strategic rationale for upgrading UK airspace provides more information on the need for airspace modernisation in the UK and describes the planned upgrades. The One Sky One Plan website provides more information about the benefits of airspace modernisation. Heathrow is working closely with the Airspace Change Organising Group ACOG and other airports to develop plans that integrate and work together across the UK.

Heathrow had initially proposed to undertake airspace modernisation through its Airspace Change Proposal (ACP) for Airport Expansion, but the Expansion project is on pause as the airport’s current priority is to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Heathrow remains committed to airspace modernisation and to keeping pace with the wider UK programme so we have begun a new ACP to make the necessary changes to flight paths to and from our existing two runways.

We developed design principles for this airspace change in collaboration with key stakeholders, and we submitted these to the CAA in February 2022. The CAA passed us at the Stage 1 Gateway and we have recently completed Stage 2 of the process, where we engaged with stakeholders to develop and assess potential arrival and departure route options.

We were informed on 30 October that the CAA did not pass Heathrow at the Stage 2 assessment gateway. The CAA decided that we did not meet all of the criteria relating to stakeholder engagement. We are obviously disappointed with this outcome. Heathrow has made every effort to undertake open and transparent stakeholder engagement throughout Stage 2, going well beyond the engagement requirements set out in CAP1616. We are currently considering our next steps.

The CAA's Stage 2 Gateway outcome statement can be found on its airspace change portal, which includes our full Stage 2 submission and supporting engagement evidence: Airspace change proposal public view (caa.co.uk)

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