Airspace modernisation

Creating an aviation infrastructure for the future to make quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys and more capacity for those using and affected by UK airspace.

Airspace modernisation

The network of routes in the airspace above us is vital for moving people and goods around the world safely, securely, quickly and on time. Our skies are occupied with aircraft of many kinds, including commercial passenger flights, air freight, general aviation, military and drones.

Airspace must be managed so that those using it can do so safely and efficiently. To achieve this management, there are rules on who can use what airspace, and how.

We, the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), are working together as co-sponsors for the modernisation of the UK’s airspace. Modernising airspace will update its structural design, change how the systems on which it runs work, and use new technology to improve how air traffic is managed.

Improving airspace practices

The UK’s airspace is one of the most complex in the world, yet it has not undergone significant change since the 1950s.

Like our road and rail infrastructure on the ground, we need to keep our infrastructure in the sky modernised to make better and cleaner journeys while providing greater capacity for those who use and are affected by airspace. Successfully accommodating the growth in demand for air transport has meant adding significant complexity to the UK’s airspace system.

The ‘Airspace Modernisation Strategy’ outlines the work that needs to happen to modernise airspace. The strategy places integration of airspace at its core, ensuring all aircraft are accommodated.

In order to integrate our airspace, it has been necessary to create specifications for electronic conspicuity devices and the electronic conspicuity rebate scheme to encourage the technologies adopted. Electronic conspicuity devices are a technology that assists pilots, unmanned aircraft users and air traffic services to be more aware of what is operating in surrounding airspace.

Benefits of airspace modernisation

Modernising airspace will:

  • help to reduce aviation’s carbon emissions, contributing to our Jet Zero goal to reach net zero UK aviation emissions by 2050
  • reduce the need for holding stacks, where aircraft join a circular queue to land at busy airports, helping to reducing carbon emissions and noise impact
  • create opportunities for airports to better manage how noise impacts local communities, including the ‘planned breaks’ for noise respite
  • increase the resilience of flights, giving consumers confidence in the network
  • increase airspace capacity to accommodate new flights and destinations, providing more choice and better value for passengers

The Airspace Change Organising Group is responsible for:

  • supporting coordination of an effective airspace infrastructure
  • creating a masterplan stating the areas where new designs will be needed

Airspace modernisation and you

As a consequence of airspace modernisation, some aircraft flightpaths may change.

In some cases this allows better noise management measures, reducing the impact on local communities.

We  have policies in place to increase engagement and consultation with these communities to ensure decision-making regarding flight path changes is fair and transparent.

Higher airspace operations

The UK, USA, Canada, the EU and its member states and Japan have issued a joint statement calling on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to work towards achieving harmonised rules and global standards for HAOs.

Published 2 May 2019
Last updated 18 December 2023 + show all updates
  1. Information about higher airspace operations added.

  2. Addition of electronic conspicuity and Airspace Change Organising Group information.

  3. First published.