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At the outset of the short 2019 session, the Government undertook to introduce an aviation bill to “provide for the effective and efficient management of the United Kingdom’s airspace”. This commitment was repeated following the December 2019 general election. The Government has explained the main objectives of the bill’s three substantive parts. In summary, these would:

  • confer new government powers to direct an airport or other relevant body to prepare and submit a proposal to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to change the design of airspace;
  • modernise the licensing framework for air traffic control; and
  • confer new powers for police and prison authorities to tackle the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft (UA). This would include drones and model aircraft. These powers include the ability to require a person to land UA and enhanced stop and search powers when UA-related offences are suspected.

The provisions in the bill would extend and apply to the whole of the UK. Whilst civil aviation (including airspace) is a reserved matter, the UA provisions are subject to legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly.

Many of the proposals contained in the bill have been the subject of government consultations. Those concerning new powers to direct individual air change proposals and to update the air traffic licence process were welcomed by a majority of respondents. In addition, a majority of respondents were reported to have expressed support for a new police power to request evidence in cases of suspected UA misuse. Support for extending stop and search powers to include cases involving UA was more qualified. The Government has noted that the consultation in which this issue was raised predated the high-profile UA disruption at Gatwick Airport in December 2018.

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