The UK’s airspace was designed over 40 years ago and is based around old technology and ground based navigation systems.
This is the case throughout Europe. Through the Single European Sky project there is a move to simplify and harmonise the way airspace and air traffic control is used.
In the UK, the Government is achieving this through the Future Airspace Strategy (FAS) which sets out a plan to modernise UK airspace by 2020.
Future Airspace Strategy
Implementation of the Future Airspace Strategy (FAS) is being led by the CAA. It will see the widespread use of modern navigation standards – commonly known as Performance Based Navigation (PBN). Existing ground-based navigation infrastructure will be removed. Eventually FAS will also mean the removal of aircraft holding stacks which will allow aircraft to climb continuously rather than being held at level flight.
Diagram: The UK’s Future Airspace Strategy will bring much needed efficiency improvements to airspace
London Gatwick and London City airports are the first major UK airports to undergo airspace changes. These are currently subject to a major airspace consultation.
What will airspace modernisation mean for Heathrow?
For Heathrow these changes are some years away. However for the first time in decades, the redesign of airspace presents real opportunities to improve the situation for communities around Heathrow impacted by noise. Modern technology and precision navigation will allow Heathrow and NATS to explore ways to provide respite from aircraft noise for people who live and work under departure routes as well as arrival routes.
To inform thinking about Heathrow’s future airspace changes, Heathrow will be running a series of joint trials with NATS over the next few years. These will test future potential scenarios such as alternating departure routes and providing steeper approaches.
Trials schedule - an indicative schedule of planned trials can be found here:
Indicative trial timeline (148KB PDF)
Westerly departure trial 2 - 25 August 2014 - 26 January 2015
The second westerly departure trial is testing 1) the use of performance-based navigation (PBN), 2) resilience and 3) noise respite.
More information about the trial can be found here:
Westerly departure trial 2 (3.59MB PDF)
Easterly departure trial 2 - 28 July 2014 - 26 January 2015
The second easterly departure trial is testing 1) the use of performance-based navigation (PBN) and 2) resilience on 3 different easterly departure routes.
Please note: the Compton trial route has been delayed until further notice.
More information about this trial can be found here:
Easterly departure trial 2 (3.61 MB PDF)
Easterly and westerly departure trial 1 - 16 December 2013 - 15 June 2014
The first two trials ran from 16 December 2013 and ended on 15 June 2014. These were testing 1) the use of performance-based navigation (PBN) on a single easterly and westerly departure route, and 2) the concept of providing predictable respite on departures. We will be publishing a report of the trials in due course.
More information can be found here:
Departures trial (2.02MB PDF)
Stakeholder engagement and feedback
Throughout the trials Heathrow will be seeking feedback from residents and interested stakeholders to inform the final airspace design. These will culminate in a formal public consultation on proposed airspace changes in 2016.
This dialogue has already started with briefings for local authorities; residents groups; campaign groups and MPs around Heathrow. Discussion will continue over the next few months and years and results from the trials will be shared on this site and through briefings as the trials progress. If you’d like to know more please contact the Community Relations team on 0800 344844.
More information is available by visiting