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Draft Civil Aviation Bill leaves environment and the public on the sidelines

In the latest stage of the review of the CAA which began five years ago, a draft version of a new Civil Aviation Bill was published in November 2011. But key elements of the advice from an independent review of the Authority, which regulates the aviation industry in the UK, are very notably missing.

In 2008, the Pilling review recommended among other changes that “the CAA should be given a general statutory duty in relation to the environment”, together with a “clear policy framework from Government”. Noting that current legislation refers to a role for the CAA in “securing the sound development of the civil air transport industry of the United Kingdom”, he further advised that: “giving the CAA a general role to promote aviation would be incompatible with its duties as a regulator. The CAA is responsible for safeguarding the general public interest, which is broader than the aviation community. I recommend that the Department for Transport propose an amendment to the Civil Aviation Act 1982 to remove the current ambiguity.”

The Government drew up a set of proposals in response to Pilling’s recommendations, including, with the CAA’s support, the introduction of a general environmental duty (but one which, in contrast to Pilling’s recommendation, would not apply to its economic regulation functions). It also proposed a new emphasis on the CAA having primary regard not for the aviation industry, nor for the general public, but for consumers of air travel. AEF responded to a consultation on proposals to update the regulatory framework for aviation  in April 2010.

In November 2011, following a change of Government, a summary of responses was published – quoting several passages from our submission – as one of the supporting documents alongside a draft Civil Aviation Bill designed ‘to modernise key elements of the regulatory framework for civil aviation in the UK’. Any reference to a general, high level environmental duty, however, was gone, the only new environmental functions being:

(1)  A requirement for the CAA to publish information about the environmental effects of UK aviation, and

(2)  An option to publish best practice guidance for the aviation industry on how to limit environmental effects.

In December, the Transport Committee questioned Aviation Minister Theresa Villiers about this, noting that “a Department press release stated that the draft Bill had included a duty to have regard to the environment and local communities and that seems to have disappeared from the content of the Bill”. She responded that: “The inclusion of that duty in the press release was an error. There is no explicit inclusion of a duty to take on board environmental factors…. [T]he Bill would require the CAA to take its decisions on the basis of what is in the interest of passengers…”

When pressed as to why the duty had been dropped, she said: This Bill is about economic regulation. It is not the right vehicle for delivering a sustainable framework, overall, for aviation…. My point of view is that, for measures which are appropriate to address the impact of flying, they need to be addressed to all airports rather than only to those that happen to need economic regulation.”

AEF supports Pilling’s recommendations that the CAA’s terms of reference should be reformed to give it duties both to safeguard the general public interest and to take account of environmental impacts. In our consultation response in April 2010 we argued that the new environmental duty should encompass all aspects of the CAA’s role, including its economic regulatory functions, and that the proposed new focus for the CAA on consumers rather than on the general public could be to the detriment of people affected by aviation but not flying, such as those living or working in places that are overflown and who may therefore be affected by noise, air pollution and safety impacts.

We are disappointed that, despite our comments having been noted, the draft Civil Aviation Bill, which provides an ideal opportunity to bring the CAA fully up to date, fails not only to make any reference to the needs of the public on the ground, but contains no reference to a general environmental duty for the regulator.

AEF believes that this matters, and will be discussing with other campaigners how we can ensure that regulation of the aviation industry addresses the needs of people and environment, not just business and consumers.

See also:  CAA call for airport capacity increase betrays industry allegiance

WWF & AEF: Civil Aviation Authority report on airport capacity ‘a contradiction in terms’