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When a developer (e.g. an airport owner / operator) wishes an airport to increase capacity by 10 million passengers or 10,000 air cargo movements they must first go through a process to obtain an Order for Development Consent or DCO.

A DCO is, in effect, planning permission for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs). As part of the process for obtaining a DCO, the developer / DCO promoter is required to engage with the CAA concerning our statutory duties, such as those around safety, economic regulation and/or airspace change.

This page contains information on our engagement with recent applications for airport-related DCOs.

The CAA is prescribed as a statutory consultee who must be consulted on all proposed applications for development consent under the 2008 Act relating to an airport, or which are likely to affect an airport or its current or future operation. The CAA’s statutory consultee role is set out in the Airport National Policy Statement (ANPS) .

While the CAA has had this statutory function since the 2008 Act came into force, the CAA has only been engaged as a statutory consultee on applications relating to airport development in the past couple of years.

Currently, the CAA is engaged with the following DCO applications:

As a statutory consultee, the CAA is expected to provide assistance to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS). PINS examine the application (hence they are known as the Examining Authority) and make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport (the SoS) who is the ultimate decision-maker.

The CAA is required to assist PINS and the SoS in considering whether any impediments to the applicant’s development proposals, insofar as they relate to the CAA’s functions, are capable of being properly managed. Specifically, the CAA is required to provide assurance that it sees no insurmountable impediments in each of our relevant regulatory domains (Airspace Change, Economic Regulation and Aerodrome and ATM Safety).

It may be that on certain applications only some of these functions are engaged. We will consider this on an application by application basis.

Airspace change

The CAA has two separate but related roles on airspace.

First, the CAA makes decisions on proposals to change airspace design (CAP 1616).

Second, as required by the Secretary of State's 2023 Directions to the CAA (pursuant to section 66 of the Transport Act 2000), we have developed a strategy (the Airspace Modernisation Strategy (AMS) for the use of UK airspace for air navigation up to 2040.

Additionally, the CAA and the Department for Transport as Co-Sponsors have commissioned NATS En-route (NERL) to prepare a masterplan to implement the AMS (the Masterplan). Once accepted, the Masterplan will be adopted into the AMS. After this date, our airspace functions will be carried out in such a way as to give effect to the AMS (the strategy and plan) subject to our statutory functions and duties.

Based on the information available at the time of a DCO application the CAA will consider whether there are any insurmountable impediments to any related airspace change proposal being approved. In doing so, in determining whether there are any insurmountable impediments, the CAA will specifically consider, based on the information available, whether the associated ACP is compliant with the AMS and Masterplan.

Close Airspace change

Economic regulation

The CAA is the economic regulator of airports which meet the market power test set out in section 6 of the Civil Aviation Act 2012. In 2014, we determined that Heathrow and Gatwick airports met the test. We regulate the maximum revenue per passenger that Heathrow and Gatwick may generate from airport charges. In setting that maximum we take account of the efficient level of costs that Heathrow and Gatwick may incur in operating and developing their airports, including, in relation to capacity expansion.

Close Economic regulation

The aerodrome infrastructure and management system

The CAA regulates some aspects of the safety of airport design against UK, European and international safety criteria. The final design, procedures and aerodrome safety cases will be subject to the approval by the CAA.

Airport operators are required by regulation to seek prior approval from the CAA of impending changes affecting their infrastructure or management system. While formal notification of changes will not take place until after the DCO application is submitted, the CAA will be expected, at the point of submission of a DCO application , to set out whether it sees any unmanageable impediments to the granting of such approval.

Close The aerodrome infrastructure and management system

Air traffic services

The CAA regulates the safety of Air Traffic Service Provision against UK, European and International safety criteria. The solution enabling service provision at an expanded Heathrow will require an integrated suite of safety assurance (based on safety cases) which will be subject to approval by the CAA.

While formal submission of the safety case will not take place until the physical infrastructure is in place, the CAA will be required to give an opinion on whether there are any insurmountable impediments to the granting of such approval.

Close Air traffic services

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

A key pillar of the DCO process is the EIA; a statutory requirement for the proposed scheme. It is a systematic process to identify, predict and evaluate the environmental effects of a proposed project.

A DCO application must be accompanied by an Environmental Statement which details the anticipated significant environmental impacts of a proposed development. 'Environmental impacts' are interpreted very broadly by the relevant legislation and include topics such as: major accidents and disasters, health, economics and employment, noise and vibration, community, as well as the more traditional environmental topics (e.g. biodiversity and habitats).

The CAA, as a statutory consultee, will engage with applications carrying out consultations on matters which are directly relevant to our regulatory roles.

Close Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

DCO charging scheme

The CAA charges for work that it carries out outside of its usual regulatory processes. The CAA recognises that the application process is ‘front-loaded’ and, generally, requires significant engagement by the application with statutory consultees well in advance of an application to PINS.

This engagement is necessary whether the potential application ultimately proceeds to apply for a DCO or not. As a result, charges will be payable for any work carried out by the CAA both during the pre-application stage and once any application has been made.

On receipt of a confirmation from a potential applicant of their intention to prepare and submit a relevant application, we will invoice the proposed DCO applicant to pay a charge of £50,000, payable on demand, before any work is undertaken.

Thereafter, the CAA will invoice quarterly in arrears up to a maximum of £350,000 for any year, or part of the year, during which the CAA is engaged in work in support of a potential application.

More information about our DCO Charging Scheme can be found in our Scheme of Charges.

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