Airspace Q4 2017: From the DG

1 December 2017

Community engagement is becoming an increasingly important activity for air navigation service providers (ANSPs). People who live under flight paths and near airports notice changes in traffic patterns – they can see more planes flying over a certain area or they notice more noise.

However, local communities often do not understand why airspace changes are necessary and only see the downsides. With local communities and campaign groups becoming more vociferous, knowledgeable and influential on environmental and noise issues, such groups are increasingly impacting the decisions of regulators and government organisations responsible for airspace.

ANSPs are working to address these local concerns; explaining the role of air traffic management (ATM) and what it is trying to achieve; and engaging in dialogue on the impact of airspace changes on communities. Some ANSPs have established special community engagement units to interact directly with the general public.

A number of best practices are now emerging from the work of these units. Some ANSPs argue that local communities and campaign groups should be fully involved in the consultation process and even involved in the design of the process. That way, at least all sides can agree that the process was fair even if they do not agree with the final outcome.

The key is to integrate local communities into route development and air traffic planning to ensure there is better understanding on both sides. In addition, local groups often have expert knowledge that can prove useful in improving projects. A degree of trust can be established by showing that ANSPs are listening to concerns and comments and are prepared to adjust plans accordingly.

The ATM industry can be very technical and acronym-heavy. It is therefore important to speak in plain language and communicate in clear and easy to understand terms and concepts. Visualisations (of real time traffic and routes) help as do noise maps. NATS, for example, has developed a programme called Comp-Air. When locals say "why don't you fly here", the programme maps the new trajectory and by using the "Calculate Noise Footprint" function people can immediately see the noise impact. Generally speaking, the more people know about an issue, the more they will understand the challenges facing ATM.

With traffic growing at around 5% a year and airports and airspace becoming increasingly congested, new airspace design and procedures are shifting the traditional noise patterns. These changes impact local communities. Ultimately, those affected need to understand what is going on and why decisions were taken; most importantly, they need to feel that their voice is being heard, respected and acted upon. Early engagement, sustained dialogue and effective communication will ensure the ATM industry can continue its 'licence to operate' and that there is better understanding of changes to airspace.

Jeff Poole

CANSO Director General


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