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Review of environmental protections and legislation in civil aviation

26th March, 2024

Right at the end of 2023 the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) released a review of the state of environmental protection relating to civil aviation in the UK. As this is the first version of the report, it provides a heavily detailed overview of environmental regulations. The intent with future versions is to provide more of an assessment of current and future performance of the aviation industry in relation to sustainability. 

The CAA regulates civil aviation in the UK and now has responsibility to publish environmental reviews of the UK aviation industry, a role previously fulfilled by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). While the CAA is limited in terms of policy making (the Government is still responsible for setting policy), regular environmental reviews could play a useful role in providing information through reporting and monitoring of trends.

The report describes various relevant regulations and associated terminology and provides some useful data to track industry environmental performance. For example, the descriptions of different air pollutants generated by aviation and corresponding graphs comparing how these have changed over time in relation to national emissions are revealing, though no elaboration is provided about the importance and meaning of the data presented (why NO2 from aviation is not falling in line with national trends, for example as illustrated below).

Trends in NO2 from aircraft compared with the national trend, section 4.53 of CAP 2620 (CAA, 2023)

Similarly, the noise modelling for 2019-2022 from CAA’s Environmental Research and Consultancy Department provides interesting information around the number of people exposed to noise near airports. Travel restrictions due to COVID-19 are likely to have heavily impacted the data, however. Adding this context and committing to follow-up research following the rebound of passenger numbers would make the data more meaningful.

The report is broadly supportive of Government and industry efforts in relation to environmental impacts, though it includes ‘recommendations’ for industry to improve environmental protection around civil aviation, summarised below:

  • Conduct further research into the environmental impacts of new technologies
  • Continue coordination of Devolved Administrations and central Government
  • Review noise measures and guidance and emissions forecasts regularly 
  • Track noise performance of the sector
  • Improve air pollution monitoring and surface access
  • Align compliance to reporting of CO2 emissions that fall under the UK ETS and CORSIA
  • Support development of novel fuels
  • Continue work on a SAF mandate, consumer information, non-CO2 impacts and greenhouse gas removals

In the future, AEF would be keen to see more clarity around which of the recommendations relate to new proposals and which refer to projects that are already underway. Subsequent reports could also benefit from highlighting any key changes to regulations relating to civil aviation in the UK now that this baseline review has been produced. 

For the full report, entitled ‘UK Aviation Environmental Review 2023’, please click here.