The Government has published a draft Civil Aviation Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. It has three main elements:
- changes to the system of economic regulation of airports by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA);
- changes to the CAA's remit, governance structure and powers; and
- transfer of security operation regulatory functions from the Department for Transport to the CAA.
Our inquiry has found general support from the aviation industry and the regulator for the measures proposed in the draft bill. The existing system of economic regulation of airports is seen as rigid and in need of reform. The bill proposes a more flexible regime under which the CAA will license those major airports deemed to have substantial market power. The CAA will be required to give overall priority to the interests of users of air transport services in carrying out its economic regulatory functions.
Witnesses raised some concerns about the need for greater clarity about the CAA's secondary duties, in particular towards airlines - the direct customers of airports - and towards the environment. We recommend that a secondary duty to airlines be inserted in the bill.
The CAA will be able to impose conditions on airports through the licensing mechanism. It will also be able to require all airports to publish information. We recommend amendments to ensure that any such conditions and publication requirements are clearly related to areas of passenger dissatisfaction and that costs are proportionate to benefits derived. Given that some of the areas of greatest passenger concern, such as immigration delays, are outside the control of the airport operator, we recommend that the Government gives attention to addressing these matters.
It is vital that aviation security standards are not compromised. The Government should clarify how the transfer of security functions to the CAA and the moves to an outcomes-focused risk-based security regime will avoid compromise while enabling the CAA and airports to achieve savings.
The Government has claimed that the bill will promote economic growth. We conclude that the Government and the CAA should be sensitive to the costs implications for airports of the various measures proposed in the draft bill.
The Government now intends to introduce the bill in the current parliamentary session, truncating the period for pre-legislative scrutiny. We call on the Government to respond to our report in time for the committee stage of the bill.