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AEF questions the CAA’s effectiveness in handling environmental issues

27th January, 2023

The Department for Transport recently called for evidence as part of a review of “the effectiveness and efficiency of the CAA. The consultation, which opened on the 28th of November 2022, is due to close on the 29th of January 2023.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) describes its responsibilities as follows.

“As the UK’s aviation regulator, we work so that: 

  • the aviation industry meets the highest safety standards,
  • consumers have choice, value for money, are protected and treated fairly when they fly,
  • through efficient use of airspace, the environmental impact of aviation on local communities is effectively managed and CO2 emissions are reduced,
  • the aviation industry manages security risks effectively.”

In our reply to the Department for Transport, AEF focused on the CAA’s effectiveness and efficiency in relation to the environmental impact on local communities and CO2 reduction. This is negatively impacted, we argued, both by gaps in the CAA’s legal duties, and by weaknesses in the approach to environmental impacts in the CAA’s strategy.

As set out in AEF’s response: “In our view the CAA’s strategy is inadequate in relation to all environmental issues. Many, perhaps most, of the deficiencies in the CAA’s strategy arise because it has no meaningful environmental duty and few powers to require the industry to achieve positive environmental outcomes. We believe this can only be remedied if the Government provides the CAA with an environmental duty, regulatory functions and clear guidance.”

Key points raised in AEF’s response include the following:

  • AEF has serious doubts as to the CAA’s ability to predict and prepare for the future regulatory requirements of the sector,  based on the inadequacies and limitations of the CAA’s existing environmental regulatory framework. 
  • As far as we are aware the CAA has not developed an environmental regulatory framework (for climate and noise impacts) in relation to potential new users of airspace. 
  • The CAA’s support for the growth of the aviation sector sidelines environmental concerns. Additionally, the CAA appears to misinterpret its duties with respect to growth. The CAA is required to “have regard to the growth of the aviation sector”, but not to prioritise it over environmental sustainability. The wider Growth Duty only requires CAA to consider the economic consequences of its actions; be proportionate in its decision-making; and keep regulatory burdens to a minimum.
  • The regulator’s role should be to regulate industries, in the interests of consumers and other stakeholders such as local communities, not to ensure they grow as a primary aim. We note that no other sector regulator is asked to support the growth of the sector it regulates. 
  • A previous review recommended that the CAA should have a general statutory duty in relation to the environment, describing this as a “notable gap”. This was not implemented and no alternative arrangements were put in place. The unsurprising result of this regulatory vacuum is that the industry’s environmental impacts have increased. The CAA requires both a duty and powers to regulate the aviation industry’s environmental impacts. 
  • The CAA’s powers to enforce airspace change outcomes may also need to be updated. At present, there are no effective (i.e. properly monitored and enforceable) mechanisms for ensuring that any noise/environmental benefits asserted to be delivered through airspace changes are actually delivered. This is a clear regulatory failure and should be addressed urgently. 

Read AEF’s full response to the Department for Transport’s consultation by clicking here.