A strategic approach to airspace planning

Written by: Ivan Baruta
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Some might say that all there is to airspace planning and redesign is to understand the structure and operation of the airspace in question, and then to use best practice tools, such as that provided by EUROCONTROL, to redesign it as required. However, the reality, in my recent European and Middle Eastern project experience, is somewhat more complex than that.

Redesigning airspace to resolve short term challenges can store up problems for the longer term. Yes, you have to understand the current issues related to the airspace you are working on, and yes, you must have knowledge of current best practice: but you also need to be aware of future global, national and regional developments, such as forecast traffic volumes and the resultant airspace requirements and upcoming technical mandates and recommendations, such as the ICAO ASBUs. But, in my experience, the process really starts with stakeholder engagement.

I risk stating the obvious, but no airspace planning project can simply change existing operations without fully comprehending its complexities, and this is only possible if the team in charge consults extensively with all relevant stakeholders. On a regional level, these should be the State authorities, ANSPs and airspace users (namely military and airlines) of each State, as well as the relevant international organisations.

These consultations will reveal stakeholders' needs and requirements that might otherwise be missed, for example, preferred routes and flight levels for airlines, or a better understanding of military operations in segregated areas enabling a two-way dialogue about civil and military needs.

It can also be helpful to define future scenarios, using the framework given by the latest ICAO Global Air Navigation Plan, to assess alternative technical, institutional, legal and other non-technical factors and their potential impacts upon future airspace design and operations. For example, one scenario may assume more extensive use of Flexible Use of Airspace (FUA), while another might consider an optimised fixed-route network, but placing both into the context of the currently available and planned CNS infrastructure as well as the institutional changes that come with it.

Taking this kind of strategic approach to airspace design enables you to address a community of needs in a very holistic way, bringing the best possible benefits for all the parties. Whilst it is somewhat resource-intensive in early phases, the outcomes will provide much-needed clarity and certainty for airspace users as well as civil and military operators.

Helios is currently advising the Gulf Cooperation Council on the development of a new Upper FlR and is embarking on a new project to redesign airspace in the UAE.

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