Government moves to revamp UK airspace for the first time in 50 years have been welcomed by airlines.
Aviation trade body Airlines UK was responding to plans outlined by transport secretary Chris Grayling to modernise airspace infrastructure.
The government will soon be launching a consultation on measures to support airspace modernisation, Grayling told the Airlines UK annual dinner last night.
“While modern aircraft are fitted with the latest satellite navigation technology, most of our airspace arrangements are half a century old,” he said.
“I know how frustrated you and your passengers are by the delays this causes. And I recognise the damage it does to your businesses.
“Without action, flight delays will increase enormously in the next few years. This wouldn’t just be damaging for passengers, but also for the economy and the environment. That is why I am determined to address this challenge.
“These measures will provide for the use of modern technology. To reduce delays, cut noise for local communities, and lower carbon emissions.”
Grayling confirmed that the Department for Transport was working on a new UK aviation strategy, which he described as “a long-term framework covering airports, safety, security, competitiveness, consumers, regulation and capacity”.
While no timeframe was disclosed, Grayling said: “We’re focusing on issues where government can make a difference. And we’ll stay clear of issues where we can’t.
“It’s part of our plan to build on the momentum of the Heathrow [third runway] decision – so the whole of Britain can benefit from new aviation capacity.”
Public consultation on Heathrow expansion will start “very soon” with a national policy statement expected to pass through Parliament and be designated next winter to allow work to start.
Grayling said he wanted to see the new runway built as fast as possible, allowing for 260,000 extra aircraft movements a year, or 16 million additional long-haul seats by 2040.
But added: “We’re not interested in expansion at any cost, but expansion at the right price. So I expect the industry to work together to drive down costs for the benefit of passengers.
“And the Civil Aviation Authority is ready to ensure that new capacity fosters competition, keeping landing charges close to current levels.”
In response, Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said: “Airspace modernisation is a critical, but sometimes overlooked part of our national infrastructure.
“The UK’s airspace was created over 50 years ago when there were just half a million planes in the sky. It was never designed for the record number of aircraft, around 2.4 million in 2015, which now travel through it.
“We know that airspace redesign can present major challenges for airports, and good community engagement will be a vital part of the process.
“That said, to ensure capacity can keep pace with demand, airspace modernisation is urgently required and, without it, delays faced by passengers are likely to soar to four million minutes by 2030.
“However, airspace modernisation wouldn’t just increase capacity and help prevent such sustained delays.
“Flying more direct routes will also reduce fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions, lessoning aviation’s impact on the climate and local air quality – and in the process seeing a substantial reduction in aviation emissions.”
Grayling also praised the strength and size of the UK’s aviation industry, highlighting new routes recently added by British Airways and Tui, and the “exemplar” customer service shown by Thomas Cook in Gambia last week when the Foreign Office issued an alert about developments in the West African country.
“Within 72 hours, Thomas Cook had repatriated thousands of British holiday-makers – acting rapidly to do whatever was necessary to secure their safe return home,” he said.
“With customer service like that, it’s no surprise that the aviation industry is confident about the future.”
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