Future Airspace

Find out how Manchester Airport is modernising airspace.

Stansted Airport future airspace


In 2017, the Government set out its policy on the future of UK airspace which made it clear that airspace modernisation is essential. UK airspace has undergone very little change since it was first mapped out in the 1950s, and with the increasing demand for flying, a lot of the way our skies are managed is outdated.

Therefore, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched their Airspace Modernisation Strategy in 2018 with the objective of delivering quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys.

Manchester Airport fully supports airspace modernisation and the wide range of benefits that it can offer, notably helping to reduce carbon emissions, enabling us to better manage how noise impacts our neighbouring communities, reducing the need for aircraft ‘stacking’ on arrival and reducing delays for passengers.

There are seven clear stages to the formal airspace change process, Manchester Airport completed Stage 2 in March 2023 and have received approval to move on to Stage 3 which will include a full public consultation.

Stages of Future Airspace Development

Stage 1

Manchester Airport submitted the work completed in Stage 1 in November 2019 and received formal approval from the CAA to move to Stage 2, “Develop and Assess” in January 2020.

In Step 1A, Manchester Airport submitted a ‘Statement of Need’ to the CAA in March 2019; the CAA approved, and the change process was started.

At Step 1B, as the change sponsor, we were required to identify with our stakeholders, design principles that would provide a framework for the subsequent design and evaluation of route options that address the issues and opportunities identified in the Statement of Need.

The process followed to compile the list of design principles:

Stakeholder Engagement

The first phase included a number of face-to-face focus groups with local stakeholders and members of the public. During these sessions, we asked stakeholders questions about their views on what the design principles should include and if there were any other issues relevant to them. These sessions were moderated by YouGov, an independent research company, and overseen by the Manchester Airport’s Airspace Team. In addition to these Focus Groups, we produced an information pack and provided opportunities to discuss the process at face-to-face outreach sessions in August, September, and October 2019.

People were able to feedback via an online survey portal, answering the same questions asked in the focus groups. This allowed everyone to have their say on what would make good design principles.

The feedback collected through the online survey and initial focus groups provided key information that the team used to form the basis of the draft design principles. These draft design principles were tested in further forums to ensure that they properly reflected the feedback that had been expressed to us. The proposed design principles were sent to the CAA in a report for evaluation (with a summary report).

Stage 2

Stage 2 was a matter of working out what was and was not possible. The outcome, required by the CAA, was a ‘comprehensive list’ of route options that could then be tested against the Statement of Need and agreed design principles.

Manchester Airport submitted the work completed in Stage 2 in December 2022 and received formal approval from the CAA to move to Stage 3, “Consult” in March 2023.

The process followed to compile the list of route options:

Forming Route Options
Our first Stage 2 action (phase one) was to identify where aircraft can and cannot fly by highlighting considerations and constraints.

During discussions with stakeholders, we explained how we identified areas where it may be appropriate for us to have routes for aircraft arriving at and departing from the airport.  We also set out the hazards and constraint we had identified, and shared the work we carried out to identify those areas to explain our reasons. At this phase, we only shared envelopes (areas of airspace) where we could potentially design route options.

The feedback we wanted from stakeholders was on the work that we had carried out and whether they thought that we had adhered to the design principles established with stakeholders in Stage 1. We were also keen that the stakeholders identify whether we had missed anything within their local communities or areas of technical knowledge that we should take into consideration when developing and refining the route options.

After engagement, we adopted the feedback received and many possible arrival and departure routes were drawn.

We held a second round of engagement (phase two) to discuss with our stakeholders the methodology to create the route options. These options were then presented on detailed maps that showed population densities, national parks and other environmental features. The purpose was not to necessarily seek comments on the desirability of any particular arrival/departure route option, but for assurance that due process had been followed and a truly ‘comprehensive list’ had been created. As a result of this second round of engagement further route options were drawn based on the feedback received.


The Stage 2 Submission
Our Stage 2 Gateway submission documents were designed to describe our work in such a way as to meet the test criteria of the CAA. The various documents and appendices describe how the route options were created (Design Options Report (DOR) - V2), engaged upon (Stakeholder Engagement Report (SER)), assessed against the Design Principles (Design Principle Evaluation (DPE) - V2) and how they fared from an ‘Initial Options Appraisal’ (Initial Options Appraisal Report (IOA) - V2). At the gateway, the CAA were checking our work to ensure that we had compiled a comprehensive list of options and then carried out some basic analysis to see how these options perform against the Statement of Need we submitted in 2019, the design principles we agreed with our stakeholders and an ‘Initial’ appraisal of their effect.

The CAA recognised the quality of our Stage 2 submission and in particular the rigour of the process we followed for stakeholder engagement. They were content that we had effectively sought and received feedback from a wide and representative range of stakeholders and the feedback had been well used to develop the options presented. We have produced a Summary Document of the Stage 2 process that provides an overview of the work completed at this Stage.

Stage 3

Stage 3 focuses on the consultation element of the CAP1616 process and is split into several steps.

Step 3A requires the change sponsor to plan its consultation and engagement strategy. This will include how consultation will take place and what methods will be used. This step also requires the drafting of consultation documentation. A Full Options Appraisal (FOA) of the route options taken forward from Stage 2 will also take place. This will look at the options it is proposed that we consult on in more detail and assess the impacts they may have. The CAA will then review these outputs to ensure they are comprehensive and clear. Where appropriate the CAA will provide approval to move to Step 3C. The airport will then carry out a full public consultation on the proposed systems. All the feedback collected during the consultation window will be collated, reviewed and categorised in Step 3D.

Video Library

How do aircrafts currently depart?

What is a Continuous Descent Approach?

How do aircrafts currently arrive?

What is Performance Based Navigation?

Manchester Airport Future Airspace Project

Future Airspace FAQs

Airspace is the term usually used to refer to the area from the ground to a height of 66,000ft. UK airspace is among the busiest in the world and therefore needs to be managed carefully to make sure we can provide safe and reliable journeys.

NATS is responsible for managing UK airspace, through their air traffic control centres. Individual airports, such as Manchester Airport are responsible for managing their local airspace, making sure that arriving and departing aircraft are safety co-ordinated with the national control centre and other airports nearby.

The way we manage airspace remains largely unchanged since the 1950s and with an increase in demand for air travel, our airspace is reaching capacity. Although advances in technology have brought improvements, a lot of the way our skies are managed was for a different time. For example, to keep aircraft safe NATS builds in delay when the airspace gets too busy. While today flights experience only around 10 seconds of air traffic control delay. It is forecast that by 2030 passengers could face delays of more than 30 minutes. Early analysis by NATS also suggests airspace modernisation could deliver up to 20 per cent of annual savings in fuel burn and CO2 emissions.

The modern ways of flying that are available to us might mean that we can make customers’ journeys more reliable, reduce the effects flying has on our environment and make further improvements in safety.

There are several stakeholders involved in this programme, however the CAA have overall responsibility for the process of modernising airspace. The Government expects all UK airports to modernise airspace close to their runway (below 7,000ft) and our national air traffic service provider (NATS) are modernising airspace at higher altitudes (above 7,000ft). To make sure that all the changes to lower and higher altitudes work together, the Government and the CAA have set up a new body, the Airspace Change Organisation Group (ACOG) to co-ordinate the program of airspace modernisation projects.

The CAA have set out a formal process, called CAP1616, that all airports must follow throughout their airspace change programme. CAP1616 outlines a number of detailed stages that must be followed, with the CAA approval required at the end of each in order to progress. You can find out more about CAP1616 by following this link to the CAA’s website.

You can find out more information about Manchester Airport’s current operations by clicking here.

We have created an independent Stakeholder Reference Group (SRG) to challenge and provide advice on our communication and consultation plans. The SRG will be made up of a selection of stakeholders and will meet periodically during the Future Airspace project to comment on and review the process that Manchester Airport uses during the whole CAP1616 review.

If you would like to be kept up to date with developments, please email futureairspace@manairport.co.uk with the following information and we will add you to our mailing list:

Your name

Your postcode

Your Email address or postal address

In line with General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), the information you provide will be used solely for the purpose of corresponding with you about future airspace and all details will be destroyed at the end of the programme. You can find our data protection policy by following this link.


A Stakeholder Reference Group (SRG) was formed in advance of Step 1B. The Group acts as an independent advisory group to contribute to the Manchester Airport Future Airspace programme. The SRG consider and provide comment on our approach to engagement, consultation, materials, and process. The Group has been structured to provide persons representing local (where possible), stakeholders representative of different parts of our society, and specialist knowledge and interests.

Minutes of inaugural meeting of SRG – 07/08/19

Minutes of SRG meeting – 04/11/19

Minutes of SRG meeting – 14/02/20

Minutes of SRG meeting – 13/08/21

Minutes of SRG meeting – 03/11/21

Minutes of SRG meeting – 29/04/22

Minutes of SRG meeting – 26/07/23