UK pledges £3.7m for greener, more efficient ‘motorways in the sky’

Untangling decades-old flight paths could benefit the environment (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Untangling decades-old flight paths could benefit the environment (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The UK government has assigned £3.7m in funding for a major redesign of the UK’s airspace, in a bid to create a “greener” and more efficient network.

“The new funding, on top of £5.5m in government investment announced last year, will drive forward progress in redesigning the UK’s ‘motorways in the sky’ and will benefit passengers, airports and the communities surrounding them,” said a statement from the Department for Transport.

The £9.2m-total project is set to modernise the UK’s airspace for the first time since the 1950s, with ministers aiming for “faster, quieter and greener journeys by air” in the process.

The UK’s flight paths were created some 70 years ago, with little development since then.

As the demand for airspace has risen - with an increasing number of commercial flights as well as military aircraft, drones and private planes - so has air traffic congestion, resulting in noisy and inefficient flight routes in and out of the country.

“Without action, our congested airspace could have meant that passengers would have seen 30-minute delays on one in three flights by 2030,” predicts the DfT.

It is hoped that redesigning these “motorways in the sky” will mean more direct, precise and efficient flights, with faster climbs and fewer holding patterns - with a broader goal of cutting carbon emissions from aviation.

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The plans could save the UK 600,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, according to the DfT.

Aviation Minister Robert Courts announced the funding boost from London City Airport on Friday.

“By redesigning our skies, we are creating a modern UK airspace that is fit for future generations and makes journeys quicker, quieter and greener,” he said.

“This £3.7m funding will support the industry in upgrading our airspace, allowing the aviation sector to continue to grow while we build back greener, cut carbon emissions and deliver on our ambitious plans to reach jet zero.”

Last February, University of Reading researchers calculated that transatlantic jets that “surf the jetstream” could cut fuel burn and emissions by up to one-sixth.

Airlines would cut costs by reducing wear on engines as well as saving fuel, while passengers could benefit from faster journeys – typically touching down 21 minutes earlier on a flight from New York to London, said the research team led by Professor Paul Williams.

They calculated the savings by analysing all 35,000 flights between London Heathrow and New York JFK in December, January and February last winter.