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The Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill [HL] 2019-21 has completed its stages in the House of Lords, where there has been qualified cross-party support for the principal aims of the Bill. The Bill was introduced to the Commons on 28 January 2021, Second Reading took place 2 February 2021 and Committee stage proceedings on 9 February 2021. Report Stage and Third Reading in the Commons is scheduled for 22 March 2021.

Part 1: Airspace management

A programme of airspace modernisation is underway to redesign the UK’s flightpaths. The aims of this are to deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys. It will also deliver more capacity. This modernisation programme is being led by industry with support from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and from Government. However, participation is currently on a voluntary basis. Neither the Government nor the CAA currently have powers to guarantee that airspace change is taken forward.

Clauses 1-8, together with schedules 1 and 2, would introduce new powers for the Secretary of State to direct airports and other entities with functions relating to air navigation to take forward airspace change proposals.

Part 2: Air traffic licensing

In 2016, the Government published a consultation on Modernising the Licensing Framework for Air Traffic Services. This consultation noted that the current licencing framework governing the provision of air traffic services needed to be “modernised to ensure that it remains fit for purpose and continues to improve on the UK’s record on safety, satisfying demand and resilience”.

Clauses 9-11, together with schedules 3-7, would amend the Transport Act 2000 to update the regulatory framework governing the licensing of air traffic services.

New clause 12, a Government-tabled amendment at Report Stage in the Lords, would provide temporary powers to amend the retained EU law on airport slot allocation due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 80/20 or Use it or Lose it Rule is used to monitor compliance and determine whether airlines can retain their legacy slots. The European Commission has waived the rule for the summer and winter seasons in 2020-21 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the UK Government wishes to make a similar waiver through the use of these temporary powers.

Part 3: Unmanned aircraft

The Government has welcomed the opportunities of unmanned aircraft (also known as drones) but recognises their safety risks. The risks were most visibly seen with the disruption at Gatwick Airport in December 2018, where the airport closed in response to several reports of drone sightings. There are also concerns around the use of drones to smuggle contraband into prisons.

Clauses 13-18, together with schedules 8-11, would expand the regulatory framework to address misuse of unmanned aircraft. The Bill would:

  • powers to police the misuse of unmanned aircraft, including to: (i) ground unmanned aircrafts; (ii) stop and search people and vehicles; (iii) to obtain a warrant to search property
  • provide for fixed penalties for certain offences relating to unmanned aircraft

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