How to negotiate a flexible use of military airspace

The high growth rates in passenger traffic have been a welcome development after some rather lean years. The downside, however, is hitting the capacity limits of a crowded airspace. When route structures are not large or flexible enough to cope, you need other air traffic management options. That might be easier if only you could fly through that restricted military airspace you currently have to go around.

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The FUA capacity option

Europe’s airports reported 9% average passenger traffic growth during the first six months of 2017. Some airports around the world have seen double-digit growth. With this expected to continue, more efficiency and flexibility in the structuring of airspace usage is needed. Working together with the military and negotiating a Flexible Use of Airspace (FUA) plan for coordinated access to previously restricted airspace is an attractive option for increasing peak capacity.

Nearly every country in the world has a significant amount of airspace reserved for military activity. That airspace is generally restricted long-term or permanently, but used much less frequently than civil airspace. With FUA, route structuring can be much more flexible because civilian aircraft can fly over restricted military airspace when not in use.

Easier said than done

The FUA concept is proving useful for maximising efficiency and flexibility of limited airspace. The military and civilian cooperation required is, however, often easier said than done. Negotiations can take many months. This is especially true in countries where there is room for improvement in the relationship between military and civil aviation. Political sensitivity surrounding military exercise areas ‘sitting idle’ can certainly complicate negotiations.

A high level of trust and cooperation is crucial to making FUA work. In some countries, that can be a tall order, even seemingly impossible. I have been in negotiation situations where clients were convinced I wouldn’t make it home for Christmas, stuck in a military lock-up somewhere for saying the wrong thing to the wrong officer.

Speaking the language

Being ex-military, I understand both the benefits and the reservations. In politically sensitive situations, not ‘speaking the language’ can lead to stalled negotiations, or worse. It helps to understand the operations and communication styles on both sides, as well the military’s very real reservations. When you have that, moving forward on the details of FUA cooperation can be just a few meetings and a presentation or two away.

Negotiating the civilian and military cooperation needed for a workable FUA plan for restricted military airspace might be the best route to increasing peak capacity as growth rates continue. With the right mutual understanding, it might even be easier than you think. I always managed to make it home for Christmas.

About To70. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner. To achieve this, policy and business decisions have to be based on objective information. With our diverse team of specialists and generalists to70 provides pragmatic solutions and expert advice, based on high-quality data-driven analyses. For more information, please refer to

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3 thoughts on “How to negotiate a flexible use of military airspace

  1. Hello Eric
    That’s a really important issue that is pertinent to much of the planet. Given that my experience that FUA negotiations tend to go very well up to the point where the military provides feedback to the effect that ‘the fighter squadrons said no and they have the real power’ – so to turn the phrase around, what is the language that is spoken to overcome this?
    Kind regards

  2. Hello Gerard,

    Difficult to say what the language is exactly. Reading your reaction, it would seem to me that in your example there was a lack of contact and participation of the squadrons involved. Knowing they have the real power, as you wrote, have them participate from the first moment.

    Kind regards,


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