Airspace Change - sharing best practice for improved performance

Written by: Steve Leighton
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Last month Helios hosted twenty senior executives from eleven UK airports at its Airspace Change Seminar which took place near Birmingham Airport. On the agenda was a range of topics all linked to airspace and the realities of planning and implementing airspace change (ACP). The event was especially relevant given the UK CAA's revised airspace change process CAP1616 which came into effect in January 2018, replacing CAP725.

Airspace change is a hot topic for aviation stakeholders and the public. The level of scrutiny and challenge of the CAA's process and decisions has increased in recent years, particularly when communities are affected. At the same time, change sponsors themselves (airports/ANSPs/airlines/MoD) are faced with increasing requirements for ACPs to accommodate more air traffic, new technologies, changing infrastructure and environmental mitigation measures. These factors combine to create a challenging environment for both those seeking change, and those responsible for authorising it.

The day kicked off with an explanation of the key differences between CAP725 and CAP1616. Helios conducted an independent review of CAP725 on behalf of the CAA, so we shared the key findings from our research which had informed our recommendations.

The second segment involved sharing experiences of airspace change. A guest speaker from one airport described the learning points from substantial airspace change covering implementing new arrival procedures, implementing RNAV SIDs for departing aircraft; implementing further RNAV SIDs to meet FASI and VOR rationalisation plan requirements. My colleague, Philip Church, added his advice, based on running three airspace change projects on behalf of General Aviation (GA), through his work for AOPA, as well as having overseen airspace change projects in 11 countries around Europe.

The afternoon segments comprised a series of moderated discussions. First up was community engagement. Consultation is a formal part of the CAP1616 ACP process, but engagement is very much at its heart and so we shared best practice experiences from other parts of the world, and audience members contributed their own experiences and ideas too. Options appraisal and economic appraisals under the new CAP were also discussed since there are additional requirements for change sponsors to consider.

The day concluded with an overview of the challenges facing LAMP2 largely focussed on airspace above 7,000ft, and the Future Airspace Strategy Implementation (FASI) South, which includes lower level airspace changes around many of the country's largest airports.

It was a highly interactive day with lots of discussion and debate. Several conclusions emerged:

CAP1616 has not been tested at scale and delegates voiced concerns about how it will work with interrelated and multiple changes. One suggestion was to link interrelated changes together and handle them as one.

General concerns were raised about timescales and delays in progressing ACPs. The high volume of ACPs combined with the more stringent process are at risk of overwhelming the resources at the CAA. Another contributor to delays is undoubtedly a lack of accredited Procedure Designers.

Delegates agreed that the CAA could help hugely by preparing guidance for airports. However, with its resources already stretched, the question remains whether guidance can be forthcoming in the near future.

Despite these challenges, it was clear that there was a huge appetite from airports for airspace modernisation, to meet the needs of traffic growth and the environment.

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