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APPG to investigate CAA airspace change process

Posted 17 July 2018 · Add Comment

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on General Aviation has announced it intends to investigate the way that airspace changes are processed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK.

The Parliamentary Group’s announcement comes in the wake of what it says is a controversial decision to grant controlled zones to a further large swathe of South East airspace near Farnborough.

The wide-ranging Inquiry by parliamentarians will study the CAA’s current powers and make recommendations on how the law might be changed to address deficiencies in the current process. In addition to making representations to ministers, MPs and Lords may also introduce legislation to change the current law.

The all-party group will invite stakeholders to submit evidence, then hold Hearings in the House of Commons as part of their Inquiry. With the full Terms of Reference to be published in due course, the report is expected to cover:

  • What the overarching policy objective should be for lower-airspace
  • Whether there is sufficient parliamentary and ministerial oversight of proposed and enacted airspace changes
  • What measures should be in place to monitor and withdraw underutilised areas of controlled airspace
  • Whether airspace change sponsors should make financial contributions in return for taking away airspace from other users – similar to so-called Section 106 provisions in national planning policy

Commenting on the CAA’s Controlled Airspace Change decision for Farnborough, Chair of the 170-strong All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation, Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP said: “We start from a position that says airspace belongs to everyone. We entirely accept that there will be cases for implementing Controlled Airspace, but are concerned the current procedure circumvents parliamentary and ministerial oversight; both in terms of policy direction and decision-making.

“If you are a housebuilder and propose construction on the local community’s playing field, then you will be expected to make a contribution to fund sport elsewhere. It might well be time for this so-called Section 106 approach to be applied to airspace changes. The Farnborough decision impacts on a large number of other aviators, so should the Sponsor be required to compensate other air users like the gliding community, who will now require Transponders to transit Class E airspace, for example.

“Furthermore, the CAA’s controversial decision on Farnborough airspace has raised another issue about where power lies to make such decisions. Currently the CAA quite literally writes its own rules using Civil Aviation Publications or CAPs and then judges the outcome of any applications. The CAA recently updated its process for deciding on airspace changes, moving from CAP725 to CAP1616. However, there has been no known parliamentary or ministerial oversight of this process. This means that both the actual airspace decision and indeed even the rules being applied, have gone through absolutely no democratic filter. This does not seem right to the all-party group and so if ministers are not prepared to take an interest, then Parliament will have to take control.

“The all-party group represents 170 parliamentarians who believe that it is time to have a look at the laws which govern how our airspace is carved up. Once our investigation and report is concluded, we will present our findings to Government ministers and potentially look to our members to sponsor legislation to amend the lower airspace policy and the decision-making process in the UK.”

Parliamentary Chair of the APPG’s Airspace Working Group, Lord Kirkhope commented: “The APPG regards this airspace change as a test case. Currently the CAA and Airspace Change Sponsors (usually airports) make changes under a set of rules devised by the CAA, with little Ministerial guidance – nowadays described in the document CAP1616.

“However, as MPs and Lords we are clear that the right to govern how our airspace is divided up ultimately rests with Parliament. We will therefore watch the implementation of this significant airspace change very carefully.

“Parliamentarians are already exercised about the apparent inability of the CAA to amend or withdraw controlled airspace once it has been allocated. Therefore, after issuing a Call for Evidence and holding Hearings in Parliament, we may choose to produce a report, making recommendations to Parliament and the Secretary of State about the future framework of UK low level airspace.”

Sector Chair of the Airspace Working Group, Pete Stratten said: “The Farnborough decision is the most significant change to south east airspace in terms of volume, complexity and impact on the aviation community. It has therefore been controversial and highly argued. Subject to any Judicial Review the decision is now made, so we will judge the outcome based on its real-world impact.

“The All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation believes that our airspace belongs to everyone. Removing it from certain users must come with responsibilities. Equitable access is therefore paramount.

“As a result, it is imperative that the proposed solution is thoroughly modelled before implementation, and reviewed after it has been implemented. We will be monitoring all aspects of this process across all elements of the proposed airspace. In addition, we will remain in close contact with General Aviation users in the area, including Lasham and Parham, to understand the impact of this new airspace on their actual operations.”

The all-party group welcomes feedback from stakeholders that is specific to the subject matter of the Inquiry which is expected to take place in the Autumn.

Tonight the all-party group hosts its Summer Reception in the House of Commons, with the Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg as its Keynote Speaker.

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