11 APRIL 2016
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UK airspace has not kept pace with technological advances in aircraft and innovation at airports and needs Government backing for its modernisation.
That is the case that, as chair of Sustainable Aviation, I have made in a letter to the prime minister this week, urging the government to consider major airspace modernisation as a national infrastructure project comparable to the rollout of superfast broadband and just as critical in terms of economic growth and benefits for the whole of the UK.
My letter follows an earlier open letter to David Cameron from a number of community action groups calling for a moratorium on all further airspace change trials.
The UK airlines, airports, aerospace manufacturers and NATS, all represented by Sustainable Aviation, appreciate the local community concerns about aircraft noise reflected in the action groups’ letter and they need to be addressed, but a moratorium would be the wrong way to do that.
In fact, airspace trials are an important way of establishing the facts and testing how modern aircraft like the Airbus A350 XWB and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner can help us to achieve the best solutions.
UK airports and NATS, the UK’s leading air navigation service provider, should be able to continue to bring forward proposals, working with local communities to provide suitable solutions. We want to be able to continue investing significantly to modernise our airspace to the benefit of both the UK economy and the environment.
Trials help us to test how implementing multiple alternative routes may be part of the answer and how we can reduce the number of people overflown. A London Luton airspace change reduced the population overflown on one route by 75%, thanks to better navigation technology, and a trial at Stansted Airport resulted in 85% fewer people overflown compared to existing departure procedures.
Modernised airspace will help us to minimise noise and cut emissions through better operating procedures, making greater use of techniques such as continuous climbs and descents and reduced holding. However, it is not just about noise and emissions, but also about the significant delays that would result from failure to modernise. A business audience, in particular, will appreciate just how beneficial airspace modernisation could be for companies, productivity and the economy. A new study from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) projects a 1m job and €245m financial boost to European prosperity in 2035 from airspace modernisation.
Imagine that the motorway network of the 1960s was trying to cope with today’s road traffic levels. That is increasingly what we face with our airspace system, whose structures have remained little changed since the 1960s. With no improvement, flight delays are likely to soar to 50 times what they are today.
We are encouraged by some recent polling of MPs, commissioned by the Airport Operators Association, which shows that most MPs are aware that the UK’s airspace needs to be modernised so that it can handle a forecast 50% growth of passengers by 2030. Many MPs also understand how airspace modernisation can help to cut both noise pollution and CO2 levels.
My letter to the prime minister underlines that the UK aviation industry is committed to finding new and fair ways to modernise our airspace. It acknowledges that airspace change needs to be considered carefully and that the view of local communities must be an integral and fundamental part of the process. What we need from government is a stable, long-term policy that will both enable the industry to continue providing the connectivity that the UK needs and meet the needs of local communities.
Ian Jopson is chair of Sustainable Aviation and head of Environmental and Community Affairs, NATS
All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum
Philippe Forest, UK/London
The IATA study projects approx. €245 Bln not Mln in GDP benefits.