I am delighted to announce that the Government has introduced the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill into the House of Lords today. This Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech on 14 October 2019, will introduce measures to support the modernisation of our airspace and provide greater enforcement powers to better enable the police to effectively tackle unlawful use of unmanned aircraft.
The Bill comprises of three parts:
- Airspace change proposals
This section of the Bill enables the Secretary of State to compel an airport or other relevant body to bring forward an airspace change in line with the overall Airspace Modernisation Strategy. If the body does not comply, it allows for the CAA to impose a financial penalty. The legislation also allows the Secretary of State to ask another relevant body to take forward the airspace change if required.
Modernising our airspace is essential for maintaining the UK’s position as a world leader in aviation. The UK’s airspace has not undergone significant change since the 1960s and is now reaching capacity. We have queues in our skies and passenger journeys are being delayed. Without change, predictions show that a third of flights could be delayed by an average of 30 minutes, 72 times higher than in 2015. This would cost the UK around £250 million per year. Modernisation will reduce delays, improve passenger experience and deliver major noise and carbon reduction benefits.
- Air Traffic Services
This section of the Bill contains measures to modernise the framework for the licensing of Air Traffic Services under the Transport Act 2000. It will update the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) licence modification process, introduce new tools to enforce the licence and give the Secretary of State powers to amend the terms of the licence such as the licence notice period.
These updates will enable the CAA to regulate the licence-holder, National Air Traffic Services (NATS), more efficiently to deliver change. It will also allow NATS to access competitive finance so it can continue to invest in improving its services.
- Unmanned Aircraft
The provisions in this section of the Bill will improve the ability of the police to tackle the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft.
Unmanned aircraft are being used to great effect across many industries. Our emergency and search and rescue services, for example, use them to help keep people safe. The technology can deliver significant social and economic benefits however, the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft is increasing. The disruption to Gatwick airport operations last year was a stark example of why continued action is required to make sure unmanned aircraft are used safely and securely in the UK. Introducing new police powers will therefore ensure that offenders who use unmanned aircraft for malicious purposes are dealt with more effectively and appropriately in order to maintain public safety.
The Unmanned Aircraft section of the Bill has been developed in conjunction with the Home Office and contains stop and search powers attached to existing prison offences and offences in the Air Navigation Order 2016. This will address an operational gap in responding to unmanned aircraft incidents. The Bill also allows for the use of counter-unmanned aircraft technology at airports, civil nuclear sites and prisons.
I will be taking this Bill through the House of Commons once the Lords’ stages are complete. I will be in touch once the Bill has progressed through the House of Lords to arrange a meeting to discuss the details of the Bill.