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What rules govern the ownership of airports (both public and private)?

There are no specific rules relating to public or private ownership of airports, although usual competition rules apply.


What is the authorisation procedure for the operation of airports?

Any airport used for commercial passenger flights, public transport flights and flying training in aircraft over a specified weight must be licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Aerodrome licensing is in the process of transitioning from domestic to European Aviation Safety Agency regulation. The licence is granted to the aerodrome operator following a safety assessment.   

What ongoing operating requirements apply (including obligations relating to safety, security and facilities maintenance)?

CAA inspectors conduct periodic audits to assess both compliance with regulatory and safety requirements, and competence of personnel. Any significant changes to aerodrome facilities or constructions will generally need to be notified to, and approved by, the CAA. 

Airport charges

What airport charges apply and how are they regulated?

Airports with more than 5 million passengers in the two years before the current year are covered by the Airport Charges Regulations 2011, which implement into UK law Directive 2009/12/EC on airport charges. The regulations cover the following charges:

  • landing charges;
  • take-off charges;
  • airport air navigation service charges;
  • aircraft parking charges;
  • passenger processing charges; and
  • passenger security charges.

The regulations impose obligations on airports in relation to charges – for example, the obligation to consult airlines about airport charges, to give notice of proposed changes to charges (including how they are calculated), consult airlines on major infrastructure projects and, where differential charges are applied to different airport users, to explain transparently the reason for the differential.

The CAA oversees compliance with the Airport Charges Regulations 2011 and can investigate.



What regulations govern access to airports?

For coordinated airports, the relevant regulations are those relating to slot allocation – the Airports Slot Allocation Regulations 2006, which give effect to Regulation 95/93 on common rules for allocation of slots at EU airports as amended, most recently by Regulation 793/2004. See further the response to the question below on slot allocation.

Otherwise, market access is gained through grant of traffic rights pursuant to bilateral or multilateral air services agreements to which the United Kingdom is a party. Most airports have conditions of use with which operators using the airport must comply.   

Slot allocation

What regime governs the allocation of airport slots (including slot transfer, revocation and disputes)?

See above. The Airports Slot Allocation Regulations 2006 give effect to Regulation 95/93 on common rules for allocation of slots at EU airports, as amended (most recently by Regulation 793/2004). This regime provides grandfather rights for allocation of slots to existing and new entrants – that is, the ‘use it or lose it’ principle relating to reallocation of slots to the same carrier from one season to the next and the circumstances in which slots can be transferred to, or utilised by, a carrier other than that to which they were allocated. The United Kingdom is one of the few EU jurisdictions in which secondary trading of slots (by way of exchange of slots together with monetary consideration) is accepted as legitimate under the EU slots regulation; such secondary trading is prevalent at London Heathrow in particular.

Ground handling

How are ground handling services regulated?

Ground handling processes are not subject to specific regulation other than general health and safety law. However, the economic market for provision of ground handling services is governed by EU Directive (96/67/EC), which is implemented by the Airports (Ground Handling) Regulations 1997. Under these regulations, which protect competition and choice in supply of ground handing services, airports are prohibited from preventing ground handlers from operating, or airport users from self-handling. The CAA has the power to make exemptions to this prohibition, but exemptions are rarely sought. In the most restricting circumstances, such as a single provider of services (or a ban on self-handling) at an airport, approval from the European Commission is also required.

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