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Modernising UK airspace


The south east of England is one of the busiest airspaces in the world with five major airports in close proximity – Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, City and Luton. The airspace that these airports use, along with the rest of the UK, has barely changed in 40 years, yet we have twice as many aircraft in the air. This airspace was also designed for an age when aircraft were fewer and less efficient, and navigation was much less sophisticated. For these reasons the UK's entire airspace needs to be modernised and this is why the Government has embarked on their “Future Airspace Strategy” to modernise the UK's airspace.

Single European Sky (SES)

The Future Airspace Strategy is part of a Europe-wide modernisation project called the Single European Sky, launched by the European Commission in 1999 to make the skies above Europe more efficient. The Single European Sky initiative provides the overarching framework for the modernisation of the European airspace system.

Since all the airspaces above Europe are connected, SES sets out to simplify and harmonise the way that the skies are used throughout Europe. So it's divided Europe into a series of zones known as functional airspace blocks. Each block has to produce its own strategy for modernisation and harmonisation hence the UK’s FAS project.

Future Airspace Strategy (FAS)

The Government's plan to update the UK airspace is called the Future Airspace Strategy (FAS) and aims to make the UK airspace more efficient than it is today. It's the strategy that applies to Heathrow and all other airports within the UK, and aims to:

  • Save fuel through more direct routings and improved flight efficiencies
  • Save time for passengers and airlines through more direct routings and the provision of extra capacity when and where needed
  • Cut CO2 emissions through more direct routings and improved flight efficiencies
  • Reduce noise from fewer aircraft holding at low levels

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)

The CAA set the initial direction for the development of FAS. As the strategy moves into implementation, the CAA will play a central role, producing the policies and regulation needed throughout the implementation process.

More information on this can be found on the CAA website

Performance Based Navigation (PBN)

As set out by the CAA, one of the key aims of FAS is to make airspace more efficient – saving time and fuel as well as reducing emissions. Key to achieving this is improving the accuracy of where aircraft fly and a move to use satellite based navigation rather than flying from ground beacon to ground beacon.

The level of accuracy, safety and integrity that these satellite navigation systems must reach is set out in the international requirements for PBN.

PBN is being adopted worldwide and countries are expected to develop their airspace to use it. Therefore as airspace and the routes aircraft fly are redesigned they will move to PBN satellite navigation.

This will inevitably lead to changes to how and where aircraft fly, and because of this, in the future Heathrow will carry out extensive public consultations on any proposed changes to current flight paths.


The original timescale set for airspace modernisation to be implemented was up to 2020. However, the implementation of PBN in the UK and the associated changes to airspace are now unlikely to be implemented until the early to mid-2020’s.

Public consultations

It is unlikely that we will be consulting on any proposed changes made as part of the Future Airspace Strategy until closer to this time. When we do, we will consult extensively with local residents and stakeholders to ensure people have their say on proposed options, in accordance with the CAA’s Guidance set out in CAP725.

Ultimately approval for the implementation of new flight paths is the responsibility of the CAA and the Government.

Keeping residents and stakeholders informed

We understand how important it is to engage residents on these matters and it is one of the reasons we set up the Heathrow Community Noise Forum (HCNF) – to keep local communities up to date throughout this process.