Official Record Series 1 - Part 2: Route Licences

Official Record Series 1 - Part 2: Route Licences


Purpose and scope
Legal framework
Classes of Route Licences
Exemptions from Route Licensing
Route Licensing policies and procedures
Other licensing criteria
Continuing requirements for holders of Route Licences



1. Airlines based in the UK which hold Operating Licences may also need Route Licences.  These are needed for services using aircraft registered in the United Kingdom on routes that are wholly or partly outside the European Economic Area and have not been exempted from Route Licensing. 

2. Route Licences may be granted only to holders of Operating Licences and cease to be effective if the related Operating Licence is suspended or revoked.  They are granted in two categories which differ according to the way capacity is sold.  Despite their name, they do not normally cover just specific routes:  most frequently, they authorise flights anywhere (except in areas already authorised by the Licensing Regulation) within the scope of the licence holder’s AOC.  They may however be more restricted at an applicant’s request or may exclude specified routes following a decision made by the CAA.

3. An airline which holds a Route Licence will not necessarily be able to operate on any particular route covered by it;  its ability to operate will depend also on the granting of traffic rights by the Government at the other end of the route.  Negotiation of traffic rights is the responsibility of DfT, though for charter services airlines are required in most cases to seek permits directly from the countries concerned.

4. Flights to or from the UK using foreign-registered aircraft (whether operated by a UK licensed airline, another EEA carrier or a non-EEA airline) are not covered by Route Licences but by permits granted by the Secretary of State under Article 113 of the Air Navigation Order.  Applications for permits should be made to DfT at the address given in Part 4.


5. The legal provisions for Route Licensing are contained in Sections 64-70 (including Section 69A) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 (“the Act”), as amended by the  Licensing of Air Carrier Regulations.  The statutory procedures for application, grant, refusal, suspension, variation and revocation of Route Licences are laid down in Regulations referred to in this Guide as the CAA Regulations can be found here.


6. The CAA issues two classes of Route Licence, both of which allow the carriage of passengers, cargo or mail (or any combination of these).  They are distinct from each other by virtue of the way space on the aircraft is sold, as follows:

  • Scheduled Licences authorising flights where at least some of the capacity is sold direct to the public without the involvement of a charterer.
  • Charter Licences authorising flights where all the capacity on the aircraft is sold to one or more charterers for resale.

7. As noted above, the default position is that each scheduled or charter licence will authorise services worldwide, with only the limitation that they must be within the scope of the licence holder’s Air Operator’s Certificate.  Licences may however contain further restrictions in specific circumstances.  In cases where time does not permit the full process specified in the Regulations for the grant of a standard licence, the CAA may issue a limited short term licence (usually covering only four flights) identified by the suffix “X” after the licence number. 

8. The form of Route Licences and the Standard Conditions applicable to them are at Schedule 2.


9. Section 64(2)(a) of the Act (as amended by the Licensing of Air Carriers Regulations) permits the CAA to exempt services from the need to hold a Route Licence. 

10. The CAA has exempted through the instrument at Schedule 3 the following categories of flights by holders of Operating Licences:

  • flights between any points both of which are within the area consisting of the EEA, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man;
  •  “sole use” flights anywhere in the world by the holder of an Operating Licence, where all the space is sold to one charterer who does not re-sell any seats or cargo space;  and
  • flights servicing offshore oil or gas installations.

11. The CAA may also grant specific exemptions relating to a particular flight or series of flights.

12. Although flights between the UK and the Channel Islands, and within the Islands, do not require a Route Licence granted by the CAA, operators may need to hold permits granted by the relevant Island Government.  The addresses are given in Part 4.


13. In deciding applications for Route Licences, the CAA must act in accordance with its general objectives set out in Section 4 of the Act and its duties in relation to Route Licensing set out in Section 68 of the Act (as amended by the Licensing of Air Carriers Regulations). It is required by Section 69 of the Act to publish the policies it will adopt within those objectives and duties.  The CAA’s current Statement of Policies dated 1 June 2002 is at Annex 6.

14. The CAA Regulations provide for a process whereby the CAA must normally publish details of applications for Route Licences, and applications to vary Route Licences, and interested parties may lodge objections or representations;  if a person specified by the Regulations as having a right to be heard makes an objection and requests to be heard, the CAA must consider evidence from each party at a public hearing.  Afterwards, and in some cases where a hearing does not take place, it must publish a written decision, with the reasons for its decision.  The CAA’s procedures for hearings are at Annex 7.

15. In practice, the CAA’s policies on licensing set out in Annex 6 are liberal and it is normally inclined to grant worldwide licences to applicants in most circumstances;  it is therefore rare for a public hearing to deal with a simple objection to the grant of a licence.  Where it does receive such an objection, the procedures at Annex 7 reflect its predisposition to grant licences by requiring that the objector should provide a written submission first so that the applicant has an opportunity to respond to it.

16. The allocation of scarce bilateral capacity is governed by the grant of Scarce Capacity Allocation Cerificates (Part 4).




17. Most of the licensing criteria that relate specifically to the applicant’s status (for example, its finances and nationality) are attached to Operating Licences.  They do not therefore have any direct role in Route Licensing, but Section 69A(4) of the Act requires the CAA to refuse any application for a Route Licence if it is not satisfied that the applicant holds a valid Operating Licence.  In the case of an application for which a public hearing is necessary, this is taken to mean that the applicant must hold the Operating Licence (which in turn will require the possession of an AOC and aircraft, and having financial arrangements in place) before the hearing takes place.

18. The nationality requirements that apply to Route Licences are more restrictive than those for Operator Licensing in that they refer to UK control rather than to EEA ownership and control. Section 65(3) of the Act requires the CAA to refer any application for a licence to the Secretary of State if it is not satisfied that the applicant is controlled by United Kingdom nationals [11].  If the Secretary of State directs it to do so, the CAA must refuse to grant a Route Licence. 


Standard Licence Conditions

19. Most of the Standard Conditions previously attached to Route Licences have now been replaced by direct legislative requirements.  There remains a condition (at Schedule 2) which has the effect of requiring operators to provide information to passengers, before they contract to travel, about the operator, the type of aircraft and the destination airport.

Regulation of Fares

20. The CAA’s policies on the regulation of fares outside the EEA are set out in its Statement of Policies.  The holder of a Route Licence may be required to file certain fares and related conditions for approval by the CAA and the licensing authority at the other end of the route, for example in accordance with any relevant Air Services Agreement.  In general, the CAA does not require filing in respect of markets where air services have been liberalised.  These markets are listed in the Standard Tariff Provisions, which are set out in Schedule 4.  Where filing is required, the CAA will advise individual licence holders about how and what to file.

Retention of an Operating Licence

21. Section 69A(6) of the Act provides that if an airline’s Operating Licence is suspended or revoked, and the suspension or revocation takes effect after any appeal, any Route Licence held by that airline ceases automatically to have effect.

UK Control

22. Section 66(3) of the Act requires the CAA to inform the Secretary of State if it is no longer satisfied that the holder of a Route Licence is controlled by UK nationals and, if he so directs, to revoke that licence.


23. There are no charges attached to Route Licences.  The costs of route licensing are recovered through the Operator Licensing charges scheme.




[11] United Kingdom national is defined in Section 105 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982.