Taking Flight: Upgrading the UK’s Airspace

April 3, 2024

Imagine if the UK’s network of roads hadn’t been upgraded since the 1950s. Since then, car ownership has soared, motorways built and new methods of road transport devised. No longer are we regularly driving Morris Minors or Rover P4s but Toyota Aygos and Tesla Model Ys. The roads we drive on have developed as the technology has developed.

But the same hasn’t happened with the UK’s airspace. While aircraft technology has evolved, the infrastructure around it has not. Planes still follow many of the same routes that were put in place in the 1950s despite a significant increase in flight numbers: from just 195,000 a year in 1950 to over 2.2 million today.

The consequences of this inaction are now being felt with planes often flying further than necessary and airspace becoming increasingly congested leading to delays for passengers. Forecasts currently suggest that by 2040, delays may increase by over 200%, resulting in 1 in 5 flights experiencing disruption for over 45 minutes, if the routes in the sky stay as they are.

The good news is that there is plan to modernise the UK’s airspace. At the Airspace Change Organising Group (ACOG), we are working with airports, NATS, the Government and the Civil Aviation Authority to coordinate the changes needed around the main UK airports.

With a modernised airspace, planes could climb more quickly and take more direct routes. There would be fewer carbon emissions per flight and as well as fewer delays.

The economic importance of upgrading our airspace

Air travel is a critical part of the UK economy whether it be family holidays, tourism, important business trips or vital cargo transport. Increasing delays would put the UK’s reputation as an aviation hub at risk.

Many UK businesses also depend on aviation to enable them and their goods to move around the world. Indeed, air freight accounted for up to 40% of UK imports by value in 2019. Ensuring this efficiency of travel will mean that businesses can continue to move goods across the globe reliably and efficiently.

Airspace modernisation will provide more capacity to the system to accommodate new routes and extra flights will mean more choice and better value. It will also ensure our airspace is fit for the 21st century and the integration of new airspace users with drones and air taxis just around the corner.

In short, airspace modernisation will mean the UK being able to take advantage of the jobs, tourism spend, travel and cargo benefits that the aviation industry provides, while putting in place the foundations for the projected future growth of air travel and helping the industry meet it net zero goals.

We are working closely with industry partners and government to drive this change forward. However, the support and encouragement of businesses, who will benefit most from airspace modernisation, remains critical to swift progress being made.

Find out more about airspace modernisation at www.oneskyoneplan.uk