UK mulls satellite navigation mandate

The United Kingdom is considering making satellite-based aircraft navigation mandatory in certain areas of controlled airspace as part of new proposals to overhaul the nation’s invisible infrastructure.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has drafted a Future Airspace Strategy (FAS) that it reckons will increase airspace capacity, improve flight efficiency, and reduce aviation’s environmental impact.
Speaking today at a London conference organised by the CAA, its chief executive Andrew Haines said: “Every day we hear discussions about a shortage in capacity for aviation in the UK, especially in the south east of England. That focuses almost entirely on runways, but there is much that can be improved just by enhancing airspace utilisation, and if we don’t get airspace right, we won’t be able to make best use of any new airport capacity.
“What is more, airspace has a significant impact on the overall efficiency of aviation and also its impact on the environment. For airlines, the airspace system can be a key determinant of fuel burn, punctuality and runway utilisation.”
Key improvements that the CAA reckons the FAS could deliver include:

  • Allowing aircraft continuous climb-outs on takeoff that get aircraft to their optimum cruising altitude as quickly as possible;
  • Providing aircraft with more efficient routings that save time and fuel;
  • Better management of arrivals at airports, such as reducing the time aircraft hold before landing;
  • Linking the whole aviation network together to share up-to-date flight information, thereby enabling better operational decisions and increasing resilience to unexpected events;
  • Using the latest technology throughout the system to increase airspace capacity and safety.

This includes the use of Performance Based Navigation (PBN) that allows aircraft to use satellite navigation, instead of ground based navigation aids, to fly much more accurate routes. The CAA announced at the conference that it will be consulting on a mandate to implement PBN in certain areas of the UK’s controlled airspace, building on an existing policy ambition to adopt PBN in the terminal and around airports. Basic PBN capability is already mandated in en-route airspace.
In its latest guidance on deployment of the strategy, the CAA said it will lead a centralised programme to coordinate the implementation of PBN.
“The programme will concentrate on the use of mandates to drive adoption of PBN in specific areas of the network and on specified routes,” it states. “Impact assessments will be undertaken by the regulator in conjunction with industry to guide the transition to full PBN adoption in these areas.”
The CAA will also seek to expedite implementation of simpler PBN replications at low altitudes around airports and promote the use of more advanced capabilities (RNP) where there is a sufficiently high level of equipage and the potential to realise significant benefits.
“Conventional alternatives will probably be required during the transition. The programme will ensure alternatives are clearly defined and acceptable for both the terminal and en-route environments. The way in which alternatives are used to stage the withdrawal of conventional procedures and incentivise adoption, for example through concepts such as best equipped best served, will also be coordinated as part of the CAA-led programme.”
The CAA said that its strategy had been developed in a collaborative way with all major stakeholder groups involved – including airlines, airports, air traffic controllers, general and business aviation, the UK and Ireland aviation authorities, DfT and the MoD.
These organisations will now start work on implementing the strategy in the UK and tieing it into European projects such as the European Commission’s Single European Sky initiative, which aims to streamline the way airspace is used throughout the continent.
Work on some of the FAS projects is already underway with the objective that UK airspace is made fit for purpose out to 2030.
Among the key aviation figures providing their views were easyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall; Heathrow Airport chief executive Colin Matthews; and NATS managing director of operations Martin Rolfe.
They heard that the UK’s current airspace system has not been significantly updated for over 40 years and that the FAS project will deliver significant benefits for air passengers, the aviation industry and the environment.
A CAA spokesman told Air Traffic Management: “The full details of mandating PBN are still being worked out. Essentially, we will support a locally selected mandate incorporating either an airport, a terminal manoeuvring area, or block of airspace in order to maximise the efficiencies of restructuring UK airspace.  Any mandate will be subject to an impact assessment and industry will be fully consulted on the process.”