RiverOak Strategic Partners





RiverOak Strategic Partners

Airspace Procedures

In 2019, RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) began the process to secure approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for its use of airspace and procedures to enable safe and efficient operations to and from the airport.

The process is defined in the Civil Aviation Publication (CAP) 1616 – Airspace Design: Guidance on the regulatory process for changing airspace design including community engagement requirements.

The Civil Aviation Authority CAP 1616 process for airspace change is carried out in 7 stages, with 14 very precise steps. It also includes four process ‘Gateways’ beyond which you are not allowed to proceed until approved by the CAA. . We are working methodically through the process and we are currently at Step 2a. The level of public and stakeholder consultation demanded by CAP 1616 is rightly both extensive and detailed, but is not carried out until step 3.

Work is currently (Summer 2020) underway on Step 2A (Options Development). At this stage of the process, and in line with CAP1616, we are seeking feedback for our Design Options, from air navigation service providers at neighbouring airports, the wider aviation community and selected representatives of local communities such as members of local authorities, parish councils and MPs representing constituencies in the surrounding area to ensure any critical technical and operational interdependencies have been considered.

When the Design Options are produced based upon the Airspace Design Principles (completed in Step 1B and assessed in the Define Gateway), a comprehensive public consultation will take place; this comprises 4 specific steps and a Consult Gateway during Stage 3.  This is a key part of the airspace change process where we will take into account the wider views of residents, businesses, communities, the public and other stakeholders.

To access the Manston page on the CAA’s dedicated Airspace Change portal, please click here.

On the CAA portal, if you slide the green buttons to the right you will reveal the earlier stages and, at the bottom of these sections, you will find copies of uploaded documents.

The Airspace Change Process

The process is set out In this diagram:


What is airspace?

Airspace is the ‘invisible infrastructure’ in the sky which helps aircraft operate safely.  It is an essential part of the UK’s national transport infrastructure.

What is airspace change and why is it necessary?

The UK’s airspace and its structure were designed more than 50 years ago and needs to be modernised to make best use of the improvements in aircraft technology since that time.  This has the potential to improve flight punctuality, reduce noise and make aviation more sustainable.  As part of the Government’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy (AMS), all UK airports are required to upgrade the airspace used by arriving and departing aircraft up to 7,000 feet.  NATS, the air traffic services provider, will update the ‘en route’ network above this threshold. Airspace change is the process through which airspace modernisation will be delivered.  It is overseen by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK’s aviation regulator, following the guidance set out in its CAP1616 publication, and led by a change sponsor – usually an airport.

Is the airspace change process linked to RSP’s Development Consent Order (DCO)?

Airspace change is a separate process and one that all airports in the UK are required to undertake as part of a nationwide modernisation of our ‘infrastructure in the sky’.  By establishing airspace and operating procedures for flights to and from Manston, this process will ensure that – if granted permission to reopen – the airport can operate in the safest, most efficient and sustainable way by fully utilising the improved navigational capabilities of modern aircraft and the updated ‘en route’ network.

Why did you begin this process before the DCO decision was made?

The airspace change process is a lengthy one, taking more than two years to complete. Manston’s airspace change proposal also forms part of a UK-wide airspace modernisation programme, demanded by the Government’s AMS, in which individual components are inter-connected.  Delaying the process at Manston would risk limiting our ability to design the best and safest possible airspace for users and local communities.

On 9 July, the Secretary of State for Transport approved the DCO application to reopen Manston Airport as a freight hub.  This decision does not affect or in any way predetermine our proposal for airspace change which is a separate process overseen by the CAA.  We will continue to engage with stakeholders, seeking the views of airspace users and local community representatives to inform our design options.

What stage is Manston Airport at in the airspace change process?

The CAA’s airspace change process consists of seven stages.  Manston completed step 1b of stage 1, in which design principles were identified, in February 2020 and is now progressing stage 2 (‘Develop and Assess’).   During this stage, a comprehensive list of options for airspace change will be developed and an initial appraisal made of the impacts of each option.

Why are you continuing this process at a time when it is difficult for stakeholders to engage face-to-face due to social distancing measures, and many have more pressing priorities?

We are mindful of the constraints on face-to-face engagement as a result of social distancing measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, as well as being aware that many stakeholders may be focused on other priorities at this time. While some airports have paused work on their airspace programmes in order to focus on more immediate operational challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis, RSP has taken the decision to continue the process for Manston.  We hope that by progressing plans to enable modern and efficient airspace to be in place when Manston reopens we will be well positioned to contribute to the UK’s long-term economic recovery and add to its resilience in the face of any future crises.

Now that lockdown restrictions have eased, why aren’t you holding face-to-face focus groups with stakeholders?

The long lead times required to book suitable venues for focus groups make it difficult to plan face-to-face meetings in advance at a time of uncertainty for the hospitality sector.  Given the likelihood that social distancing measures will remain in place for some time yet, we felt that online focus groups were the best option to ensure the safety of those taking part and to enable the greatest number of stakeholders to take part.

Who are you engaging with during this stage of the process?

As we did as part of step 1b, we are inviting air navigation service providers at neighbouring airports, airspace users, local authorities and parish councils in the area to provide feedback and attend focus groups to help shape our design options. 

When can members of the public get involved?

Comprehensive public consultation will take place during stage 3.  The consultation phase is a key part of the airspace change process as it allows the change sponsor (in this case, RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP)) to gather information and to understand views about the impact of a particular proposal and allows consultees to provide relevant and timely feedback.

Why are you engaging with airspace users first?

The option that is eventually chosen must be compliant with technical criteria set by the CAA and must consider any critical interdependencies with neighbouring air navigation service providers and airports, establishing plans to resolve any issues that arise.  By ruling out options which do not meet these criteria, or which could conflict with operations at neighbouring airports, at this stage we can ensure consultation is focused on meaningful options.

What is the timeline for airspace change?

We expect to complete the process in 2022.

Why doesn’t the process include flights over 7,000ft?

Flights over 7,000ft are the responsibility of NATS, the national air traffic services provider.  NATS will undertake a separate airspace change process in order to modernise the ‘en route’ network above this threshold.

What is the role of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)?

The CAA is the UK’s specialist aviation regulator and created the guidance document (CAP1616) that change sponsors need to follow to create an airspace change.  The CAA has responsibility for approving or rejecting airspace change proposals put forward by change sponsors, checking that the correct process has been followed at clearly defined gateway points before authorising progress to the next stage.

Further information

To access the Manston page on the CAA’s dedicated Airspace Change portal, please click here.

On the CAA portal, if you slide the green buttons to the right you will reveal the earlier stages and, at the bottom of these sections, you will find copies of uploaded documents.

For information on how the process works, please see the Civil Aviation Publication (CAP) 1616 – Airspace Design: Guidance on the regulatory process for changing airspace design including community engagement requirements.

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