In her opening remarks, Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State at the Department for Transport) confirmed that the Government will be reviewing controlled airspace, saying that the programme would include “airspace changes that direct airports to release underused controlled airspace so that General Aviation users can better access it.”
Several members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation (APPG-GA) were present at a debate scrutinising the new legislation, titled ‘the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill’.
The new law will give the Secretary of State for Transport the ability to direct airports and other service providers to submit airspace change proposals. This new power will allow the Government and the CAA to carry out a programme of airspace modernisation.
Importantly, the Bill will also give the Government and the CAA the right to review airspace changes after they have been activated.
Speaking in the debate, Co-Chair of the APPG-GA, Lord Davies of Gower said “Diverse user groups all compete for the same volumes of sky, and the right of access for everyone must be protected as a central principle of airspace strategy. I always think of it as akin to the right to roam in the countryside.
“New powers to review and reduce airspace must be used with vigour to cut down redundant controlled airspace that is never visited by jets. It is right, proper and justified to open up areas of this common air for use by general aviation.”
The ability to review and amend controlled airspace was a key proposal made by the Lord Kirkhope Inquiry into Lower Airspace, published by the APPG-GA last year.
The report’s author and APPG-GA Vice-President Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate also spoke during the Bill debate, saying “Throughout our inquiry we were reminded of the pressing need to be able to remove airspace when it is not demonstrably required. Other noble Lords have also, rightly, pointed this out. It is important that such a reduction in airspace is available to us.”
Lord Kirkhope went on to point out that “General aviation in the UK is a substantial contributor to our GDP, greater than some of the other areas we spend a lot of time debating.”
The new Bill will also bring in extra powers for police in relation to drones. Police will now be able to ground a drone, issue on the spot fines and deploy anti-drone technology in areas at risk of drone interference.
Lord Davies said “It must be recognised that 99% of drone operators in the UK do so in accordance with the rules and cause no nuisance to the rest of aviation. However, it must also be recognised that drones have the potential to be used against aviation maliciously; it is good that police will now have the powers to manage such incidents swiftly.”
House of Lords approved the Bill at its second reading stage, and it will now go to its committee stage before moving to the House of Commons later in the year.