Noise and emissions

Reducing the impact of aviation matters to us all

Noise and emissions

Reducing aviation’s environmental impact, particularly noise and global greenhouse emissions, matters to all of us.

And we are measured on our environmental impact too. NATS was the first air traffic control service provider in the world to be measured on the efficiency we provide flights and close to airports this supports communities by delivering smoother continuous aircraft climbs and descents, which are less noisy.

Managing our impact on local communities

We understand that aircraft noise is a key issue for the sustainable growth of aviation sector and we continue to work to manage noise impacts on the communities close to airports who are overflown.

We follow a number of existing noise management regulations to ensure that our noise impact is managed effectively. Some of these mechanisms include: noise instructions in the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP); local rules set as part of planning agreements for airport expansion (often known as ‘section 106 agreements’); and airport key performance indicators, such as continuous descent approach targets.

Noise and airspace change

When we consider airspace change, we look closely at noise impact. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) provide guidance on the airspace change process (CAP 1616). Part of this guidance sets out the process that proposers of airspace change should follow, including detailed guidance on environmental assessment. We refer to this guidance closely in our airspace design process.

Below 7000 feet, responsibility for considering the environmental impact of airspace design rests with individual airports. However, we work closely with airports to ensure that any proposed changes will work seamlessly with the airspace design above 7000 feet, which we are responsible for.

For the airspace above 7000 feet, we work closely with stakeholders, including airlines and airports, to strike an appropriate balance between achieving reduced noise and operational efficiency and meeting the commercial interests of airlines.

CAP 1616 also provides the requirements for how we carry out engagement and consultation, when it comes to undertaking an airspace change.

Working to balance noise reduction with operational efficiency

CO2 emissions

The key issue facing NATS and the aviation industry is the need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. With this in mind, we need to consider the environmental impact of how we control aircraft every day. This includes how we improve the efficiency of our airspace, route network and our technology.

NATS continuously identifies operations best practice which informs how we design airspace and deliver daily air traffic control services. Since 2008 we have avoided over 10 million tonnes of CO2 by improving airspace design. We also use the expertise of our controllers to improve airspace efficiency through their suggestions of small improvements which can be made.

We recognise that we have an important part to play in contributing to reducing aviation’s carbon footprint and in reducing the impact of our operations on communities. This is particularly important bearing in mind that aviation will become part of the UK’s carbon budget from 2033.

We recognise that our efforts to reduce emissions will be far more effective by working collaboratively with those across the aviation industry. We take an active role in Sustainable Aviation, a coalition with major UK airlines, airports and manufacturers to tackle the challenge of ensuring a cleaner, quieter and smarter future for the industry.

  • More information about how we are addressing these issues is available in our annual Responsible Business Report
  • Find out more about our commitment to net-zero emissions for the buildings and infrastructure under our control here

The role of Airspace modernisation

With airspace modernisation now part of UK Government strategy, we have the green light to design new routes – and minimising noise and emissions will be central to that.

New satellite technology, known as Performance Based Navigation (PBN), offers the potential to design more direct, more efficient routes. In the en-route phase of flight, this accurate form of navigation technology allows aircraft to follow a flight path with increased and means they won’t need to navigate using ground-based beacons.

PBN also offers benefits in the take-off and landing phases of flight.

  • On take-off, a new airspace design offers the potential to build in respite routes so that communities have the benefits of scheduled relief from noise and will ensure aircraft can get to higher altitudes, where they are most efficient, quicker.
  • Aircraft coming to land will be able to stay higher for longer thanks to new technologies which help absorb delay en-route and will mean we won’t need aircraft stacking in normal operations.

Learn more about our plans for a more efficient, future airspace


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