The Case for More Flexible Use of Lower-Level Airspace Within the UK

A Strawman Paper by Airspace4All

Executive Summary

Within the UK there has been a steady growth in the volume of airspace restrictions at lower levels where the impact is felt particularly by the recreational General Aviation (GA) pilot. As the volume of such airspace increases, the volume of un-restricted airspace obviously decreases. Whilst much of these airspace restrictions are already accessible to the GA pilot within certain constraints, the majority tend to fly within un-restricted airspace.

The growth of airspace restriction has operational and safety implications in terms of the creation of interstitial choke points of Glass G airspace into which such non-commercial traffic is funnelled, creating a correspondingly higher mid-air collisions (MAC) hazard in such airspace. The funnelling effect may also be reflected to some extent in Airspace Infringement statistics.

There may be benefits to all parties accruing from a more flexible approach to the use of airspace. Such flexibility might include the handing-back to general use on a temporary and geographically defined basis (limited in dimensions and measured in perhaps hours or days) some of those blocks of airspace which for that limited period do not actually need to be restricted at that time. The paper sets out examples of such airspace and offers examples of how such flexible use might work.

Self-evidently, it will not be realistic to apply any such flexible use model to all restricted airspace. Certain airspace restrictions, for example nuclear power stations, prisons and some busy CTRs, will simply not be suitable for flexible use under any foreseeable circumstances; however, other areas could be.

This work ties in with the current Airspace Modernisation Strategy Initiative 10. It provides potential advantages to the non-commercial user, but it may also provide potential economic advantages to the ANSPs and other airspace managers (although that is less easy to define). Some safety and communications issues arise. But, as this paper will show, there are solutions to these issues.

This strawman paper proposes the development and trialling of a flexible-use model in at least two areas of the UK’s airspace as a preliminary step towards a potential roll-out on a wider basis.

It envisages doing so in very close cooperation between the Regulator, the ANSPs/airspace managers, and with the recreational flying community such that each has a stake in the process. There would be a formal review process after the trial.

In parallel with this work the paper also recommends potential action to help the GA community improve its own standards of airmanship, thereby lowering some of the hazards associated with the introduction of flexible use of lower-level airspace.