Making the UK the best place in the world for General Aviation

Aviation Minister Robert Courts MP promised FLYER an update on the latest policies affecting General Aviation and the work the Government is doing to support its recovery and success

Robert Courts MP

As the world recovers from the pandemic, I am delighted to see the general aviation sector prepare for lift-off ahead of the new flying season. For far too long we’ve had planes grounded nationwide, and lives put on hold – but this finally ended when we removed all international travel restrictions in March.  

Restrictions or no restrictions, my department has never stopped focusing on improving outcomes for the sector. As set out in our General Aviation Roadmap last year, we want to make sure the UK sector is the best in the world for General Aviation. Building on this, we recently launched our Flightpath to the Future, an ambitious plan to support the whole of the aviation sector, including reaffirming our focus on General Aviation and skills – the grassroots of aviation. I want to take the opportunity to talk about some of the things we have been working on to support General Aviation.

First, we’ve created a brand-new independent body to review licensing decisions by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Developed in collaboration with the CAA, it establishes a new independent route for people to dispute decisions affecting them, improving trust in the regulatory system. Led by the fantastic Nick Denton, former Traffic Commissioner for the West Midlands, the body became operational on 2 May, and ensures a person who has a legitimate complaint has an accessible and effective avenue to have it heard and remedied, rather than having to resort to a costly and time-consuming Judicial Review. It will provide recommendations to the CAA if it identifies correct process was not followed. If the CAA chooses not to accept any recommendations, it will need to explain why.  It is of course vital that the CAA remains the ultimate decision-maker, so that it is not undermined as the independent safety regulator. However, if you wish to challenge the merits of a decision, you are still able to apply to the CAA to have a Regulation 6 hearing, which will consider both process and the merits of a decision.

Second, on airspace issues, we’ve been working on a voluntary Electronic Conspicuity standard. Improving aircraft conspicuousness will help to prevent mid-air collisions and keep our skies safe. Given the fast-evolving nature of manned and unmanned aircraft needing to fly in a unified and harmonious space, this is ever more crucial. The new standard will promote integration, interoperability, and innovation, giving airspace users the freedom to fly safely. To support this, we are also providing funding for the Electronic Conspicuity rebate scheme for the third year in a row, which will be vital to encouraging safe flying. This also feeds into our airspace modernisation work, and I have ensured General Aviation is properly represented in our plans to refresh the Airspace Modernisation Strategy which will improve safety and efficiency in how we use our skies.

Third, we continue to focus heavily on supporting General Aviation airfields, helping them thrive. In the last 12 months I have overseen and supported the development of the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) Airfield Advisory Team which has delivered operational support to over 30 airfields and has been critical to supporting airfields on a range of operational and safety issues. I look forward to seeing them do more in the coming year.

Aviation Minister Roberts Courts
Mr Courts trying the Nuncats electric aircraft for size at Old Buckenham Airfield

Fourth, the sector continues to face skills challenges. Not only do we need to ensure we have the right people now, but also for future generations. General Aviation is at the heart of supporting the future skills of the wider aviation sector, as it acts as an entry route for so many careers into aviation. To support the sector during the pandemic, I was pleased to launch the Aviation Skills Retention Platform and Talentview Aviation last year – two initiatives aiming to keep vital skills in the sector, while also connecting aviation students to employers and supporting development of a future talent pipeline. More recently, we announced the Generation Aviation campaign, which will seek to raise awareness of aviation careers and attract the next generation.

Fifth, we continue our focus on improving regulation and safety, and I’m focussed on making sure that General Aviation can realise the full benefits of Brexit. I have worked with the CAA to develop the Skyway Code for Airworthiness, which improves the advice to the General Aviation community, and we are progressing the simplification of licensing, improving regulations on airworthiness, and reviewing Pilot Medical Declarations. All this work is focused on improving regulation and opening new opportunities for the general aviation community, which was far harder to achieve whilst the UK was a member of the European Union Safety Agency (EASA).

Sixth, I recognise that business aviation is the economic engine of General Aviation and plays a key role supporting trade and investment. That’s why I have actively supported the GA for Business Forum – to discuss commercial issues and priorities within General Aviation and to ensure better join up between industry and Government. Globally the sector is expected to grow significantly, and I want the UK to be at the very heart of this growth.

Seventh, historic aviation is a personal passion of mine. My grandfather and great uncle fought during WWII as part of Bomber Command, and I fondly recall hearing their stories as a child which created my lifelong passion for aviation. I want to protect our aviation heritage to ensure we do not to forget an important part of our country’s history, while inspiring future aviators to carry the baton forwards. I have therefore ensured historic aviation is a critical area of work for the Department for Transport.

Finally, as we look ahead I am excited at the prospect of appointing a new General Aviation Advocate, building on the success of Phil Dunnington, who sadly passed away last year. Another challenge we all face is climate change, and I am enthusiastic about exploring the role that General Aviation can play in supporting the Government’s Net Zero ambitions. We are currently leading research to understand how General Aviation is contributing to carbon emissions and the opportunities to decarbonise, so we can shape future policies and support it to adapt. The wonderful thing is that General Aviation can be a testbed for new initiatives and innovations, so can support wider aviation decarbonisation efforts.

The success of the sector is your success. It is the work that you do to keep the planes flying, to keep airfields open, and to keep young people excited about aviation. Over the next few months, I hope to get out and about to hear more of your stories. Despite continued challenges the sector faces, the Department for Transport will always be by your side, and I will never stop in my mission to ensure the UK remains an aviation nation and a true world-leader.


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