Think Thoughts

The Airspace Classification Challenge

It nearly escaped my attention that that Commission Regulation (EC) No 730/2006 was repealed by the latest amendments to the Standardised European Rules of the Air (SERA). Actually the only regulatory provision, that all airspace above FL195 shall be classified as ICAO Class C airspace, has been transposed and lives on as article SERA.6001(b) but it still got me thinking, what happened to all the plans to simplify airspace classifications?

SERA came about from SES2 amendments to Article 4 of the airspace Regulation. An article that used to be about the “simplified application of airspace classification” suddenly became more about “standardised rules of the air” and in particular reducing the differences filed by EU States against ICAO rules. SERA and it’s bewildering number of parts and articles is a transposition of certain ICAO Annexes in to EU law, but with a few loopholes for member states (or competent authorities) to establish local variations. But to all intents and purposes SERA has achieved the regulatory aim of common rules.

No. 730/2006 was however was from a simpler time and it was supposedly going to be augmented by a further rule reducing the number of airspace classifications used below FL195 and eventually replaced by a new rule based on  a reduced the number of airspace classifications. SES1 took its cue from the ECAC airspace strategy of the time which suggested reducing the number of airspace categories from seven to three by 2010, with a further reduction to two by 2015. The airspace classifications would have been N, K, and U for iNtended, Known, and Unknown. These concepts were included in the SESAR definition phase (for fellow geeks OIs AOM-0101 to AOM 0103) but have been quietly dropped.

Does it matter? I am beginning to think that it might do. The elapsed years have seen an increased pressure on airspace use: low cost airlines have opened up the number of airports receiving passenger flights and local residents are quite rightly demanding respite from noise. As traffic and complaints grow the challenge of ensuring fair and equitable use of airspace to all users (including appropriate provisions for VFR flights) is becoming increasingly difficult.

SESAR has an array of concepts and technologies to support optimisation of ATM. What is not clear is how the minimum level of aircraft equipage for each airspace classifications may change as new concepts are deployed. So whilst new airspace classifications may not be needed, debate is still required around the medium and long term strategy for airspace use and equipage requirements to ensure all airspace users have the confidence to invest in the right SESAR solutions.



About Paul Ravenhill

Paul Ravenhill is Director of Capability Development at Think. With over 25 years’ experience in air transport covering system development, Research and Development and consultancy, Paul has built up a deep knowledge of European ATM from an operational, technical and regulatory perspective. Paul uses this knowledge to support service providers, regulators and supply industry adapt to regulatory and technical change required by the legislation to improve operational performance and cost-effectiveness. View all posts by Paul Ravenhill →