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Free Route Airspace: Scotland

On 2nd of December 2021 Scotland’s old air route structure will be removed to be replaced at above 24,500ft with Free Route Airspace.

The development by NATS, the UK’s leading air navigation services specialist will, they say, lead to considerable savings of fuel and CO2 emissions.

On the same date West France will also move to Free Route Airspace.

NATS say that, “in the shorter term how we manage our airspace can play a crucial role in reducing CO2 emissions.” It is all part of The Airspace Modernisation Strategy.

The modernisation of Airspace above 25,000 ft and above 7,000 ft will lead to:

  • more efficient flight profiles
  • fewer miles flown per aircraft
  • less airborne holding
  • less fuel burn – quicker, quieter, and cleaner flights.

In the short-term, modernising UK airspace offers the greatest opportunity to reduce aviation emissions in the UK while more longer-term technologies are being developed. Current aircraft capabilities already far exceed the operational opportunities for enhancing efficiency because of the constraints within the UK’s highly complex airspace.

Written evidence submitted by NATS (AIS0008)

The airports in Scotland which are part of the modernisation strategy are: Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. HIAL (Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd) is not involved and has decided to go ahead with its own project which includes the deeply unpopular Remote Towers Project.

Current airspace in the UK is built upon a structure put in place in the 1950s and which has been regularly adjusted to changing needs in a sector which has seen 2.6million flights taking place in 2019. Today, due to Covid , those flights are now at 65% of the peak reached in 2019 but the restructuring will make future flights across Scotland’s airspace cleaner and quicker.

Free Route allows operators to fly the most optimal profile above 24,500ft, unconstrained by route structures designed around ground-based infrastructure. Consequently, inefficient Flight Plan route requirements are removed in favour of trajectories defined by the pilot, helping reduce fuel consumption.

Written evidence submitted by NATS (AIS0008)

Between now and 2027 NATS Operational Service Enhancement Project (OSEP) is aiming to deliver small scale changes across UK airspace. One of the airports it is hoped to benefit most from this will be Aberdeen.

Presenting evidence on The Airspace Modernisation Strategy to Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee, Director of Future Airspace Operations, NATS, Dave Curtis commented that although HIAL was not part of the strategy that is would be of benefit for them to join.

You can read the evidence paper presented to the Scottish Affairs Committee by NATS here:

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