Air Traffic Services Brief -- National Airspace Redesign

Air Traffic Services Brief

National Airspace Redesign

The Issue

The FAA is conducting a review and redesign of the airspace resources in the National Airspace System. This project is one of the FAA's top priorities and the goal of this redesign is to support the transition to satellite based navigation and develop a cohesive plan for managing airspace changes that will result in increased safety and efficiency in the NAS.

The Importance to our Members

With National Airspace Redesign, General Aviation stands to gain flexibility and efficiencies in the benefits-driven evolution to Free Flight. Currently, one of the greatest benefits General Aviation has today is the operational flexibility provided by VFR flight. Increasing regulation, new equipment requirements, and additional operating restrictions threaten to diminish this flexibility and it is critical that AOPA work to ensure that we do not lose any of the access or flexibility we have in the current system.


Historically, airspace management functions have been widely dispersed. The responsibility for airspace management has resided with the FAA regional offices, and the responsibility for operational considerations resided with individual air traffic control facilities. Often the focus of most airspace management has been local in scope and centered on single areas of concern bounded geographically and regionally.

In 1982 the FAA conducted a National Airspace Review. This was the FAA's initial look at airspace for the purpose of standardizing, simplifying, and incorporating International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards. The National Airspace Review resulted in the implementation of new airspace classifications (Categories A, B, C, D, E, and G) in 1993.

The FAA established the Air Traffic Airspace Management Office (ATA) in 1996 to provide management oversight of all ongoing and future airspace plans. Following the establishment of ATA, the regional air traffic offices instituted their Airspace Management Branch Offices. These regional offices provide direction and guidance to the field facilities within their region for the management and control of airspace assigned to each facility. They monitor airspace activities as appropriate to facilitate resolutions when problems or issues arise.

Recognizing that the FAA needed to have consensus among users and service providers, ATA requested that the RTCA* provide a forum where representatives of government and the private sector could collaborate on concepts for airspace redesign. RTCA responded by forming Special Committee (SC) 192, National Airspace Redesign Planning and Analysis. The concepts developed by SC-192 and other government/industry forums greatly influence the direction of the national redesign effort.

Until recently, most airspace design activities were done by experienced air traffic personnel looking at maps and manually moving boundaries/routes/fixes and empirically evaluating the effects. This largely qualitative approach produced local, but not system wide solutions. Though successful in the past, this approach is fast becoming ineffective due to the increasing complexity of the NAS. A new, quantitative approach to airspace design was needed and the National Airspace Redesign effort is the FAA's first coordinated, comprehensive national airspace redesign project.

AOPA Position

AOPA is an active participant in the National Airspace Redesign efforts and the continued development of the free flight concept with the goal of creating additional ATC system efficiency and capacity while at the same time saving pilots time and money. Since the installation of the first ground based navaid, pilots have been flying doglegged paths through the air. With the widespread development of loran and GPS pilots are now able to return to a "pre-navid" era when flying could be freely accomplished along a direct route and AOPA supports a gradual evolution to this new system. Free flight will rely on GPS and data communications and processing AOPA wants to ensure that the equipment is affordable and will provide increased benefits for equipage.

Associated links and related documents

* RTCA, Inc. is a private, not-for-profit corporation that develops consensus-based recommendations regarding communications, navigation, surveillance, and air traffic management (CNS/ATM) system issues. RTCA functions as a federal advisory committee. Its recommendations are used by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as the basis for policy, program, and regulatory decisions and by the private sector as the basis for development, investment, and other business decisions.