As a general rule, any person or firm based in the United Kingdom that operates an aircraft and carries passengers or cargo on it for remuneration needs an Operating Licence granted by us. This applies irrespective of the registration of the aircraft used (though in normal circumstances airlines licensed by us are required to use UK-registered aircraft) and there are very few exceptions to that rule. There are set criteria for grant of an Operating Licence reflecting the nature, ownership, insurance and financial health of a business. An Operating Licence holder requiring a valid Air Operator Certificate (AOC) to demonstrate operational safety.
Depending upon the type of activity on which they are engaged air operators may also need one or more Route Licences. Despite their name, Route Licences normally permit operations worldwide rather than on specific routes, though they can contain exclusions.
Airlines that are based or registered outside the United Kingdom, but operate UK-registered aircraft, which in practice are usually those based in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, are not eligible to hold either Operating Licences or Route Licences. They instead hold Air Transport Licences, which have broadly the same effect as the combination of an Operating Licence and a Route Licence.
On some routes the Air Services Agreement between the UK and a foreign government may limit the traffic rights available in terms of the number of carriers that each side can designate, the routes those carriers can operate, and the frequency or capacity they can offer. Where there are insufficient traffic rights to accommodate the demands of all UK-designated carriers, which may include Community carriers established but not licensed in the UK, we may be required to determine how those rights should be allocated, through the grant of Scarce Capacity Allocation Certificates.
Basic licensing requirements
To qualify for an Operating, Air Transport or Route Licence applicants must be able to demonstrate that:
- Their principal place of business is in the United Kingdom (or associated territory).
- That the business is majority owned and effectively controlled by qualifying nationals.
- The financial fitness of the business.
- Those that own and control a licence holder are of good repute and character.
- The business has sufficient insurance.
- The company has access to aircraft suitable to support the activities that it proposes to undertake.
List of current licence holders
- Our list of current Licence Holders.
CAA Licensing decisions of the CAA
Decisions about the allocation of scarce capacity, or the grant, restriction or revocation of Operating, Route or Air Transport Licences can be found via the Decisions page.
Foreign Carrier Permits
Air operators based outside the UK require a Foreign Carrier Permit from us before operating flights to, from or within the UK.
- Further information about Foreign Carrier Permits.