Operating resilience of the UK's aviation infrastructure

Closed 30 Sep 2016

Opened 22 Jun 2016

Feedback updated 7 Jul 2017

We asked

The UK’s airport and airspace capacity is constrained, and there will be no new significant airport runway capacity until 2025. Our busiest airports are regularly among the worst performing in Europe in terms of on-time performance. Although passengers benefit from increases in capacity, such as those which arise from higher runway utilisation, they also suffer if that leads to more delays and worse reliability.

The purpose of this consultation was for the CAA to explore two key areas from a UK perspective, recognising that the issues are likely to be more severe in the South East of England:

  • How can the performance of the aviation network be improved or optimised?
  • How effective is the current regime and how are consumer interests represented?

You said

We had 23 formal responses to the consultation, which we have published where we have permission to do so. Submitted responses where consent has been given to publish the response can be viewed at the bottom of this page.

In general, repsonses to the request for information were based on opinion or experience rather than evidence. The main points can be summarised as follows:

  • Agreement that the current capacity declaration process works well at Heathrow, where various parties are aligned in improving performance as opposed to being able to increase flights (8 responses)
  • Capacity/airspace decisions should take account of more information from more/all airports (7 responses)
  • The need for UK airspace modernisation and improvements in Europe (7 responses)
  • Mixed views about the declaration process at Gatwick (5 positive responses Vs 5 negative)
  • Call for the effect on residents to be taking into account (3 responses)
  • Ground-handler market is not working - they are under-resourced (2 responses)
  • Mixed views on greater transparency of information (some agreed in principle, some that issues are too complex for consumers to find useful)
  • Other themes around airports' market power, incumbent airlines' incentives to protect their interests, and the use of regional and GA airports.

We did

Some of the issues raised in response to this consultation are being addressed by other areas of our work, or are down to purely commercial decisions, such as the distribution of commercial and general aviation traffic at airports.

However, we also believe that further investigation is merited into planning, scheduling and operational processes and that there are opportunities for consistency and better cross-industry collaboration.

There are currently no collective rights and responsibilities concerning resilience in the aviation system, potentially leading to inefficient outcomes for industry and consumers. Indeed, there are many complexities, such that it may be difficult for a single entity to guarantee improvements to its own operation, even where it chooses to spend more money on resilience.

The CAA believes that in the period up to and following the provision of new runway capacity in the South East, action needs to be taken to mitigate the risks to consumers arising from a lack of resilience which we have highlighted in this report. 

Given resilience problems are likely to require collective cross-industry action to resolve, in early 2017, the CAA decided to test industry appetite for forming a voluntary group to consider how best to tackle these issues. In April 2017 a group of airports and airlines based in the congested South East of the UK, along with NATS, ACL and the CAA formed the Voluntary Industry Resilience Group (VIRG) to pool their expertise and recommend actions (for industry itself or the Government, as part of its review of Aviation Strategy) to address current and future resilience issues. 

Notwithstanding the recommendations of the VIRG, there are still opportunities for the CAA to consider or formalise resilience issues through the appropriate airport economic licence process.  However, CAA regulation may not be the most appropriate mechanism, as for airports it only applies currently at Heathrow and Gatwick, and we can only introduce licence conditions at airports where we have deemed that they have sufficient market power to require a licence. 

The CAA could also consider NERL licence conditions to cover traffic prioritisation, airspace change, airport schedule oversight and staffing level resilience. Any such changes must be implemented through the appropriate licence process involving consultation with NERL and its stakeholders, and considered in the context of relevant European wide airspace targets.

Government intervention would take time, and there is an opportunity as a likely new aviation strategy and legal arrangements for a new runway are developed.  The CAA believes that the Government should consider options for structural reform as it develops its aviation strategy. In particular what beneficial changes (if any) could be made to the airport capacity declaration responsibilities (or oversight) or to the UK slot legislation, and the potential benefits of a network system manager who could plan, co-ordinate and make decisions to improve resilience.

The CAA also intends to review its information duties and punctuality statistics reporting during 2017 and could take the opportunity to introduce new or modified measures that better capture resilience or the factors which affect it.

Published responses

Submitted responses where consent has been given to publish the response are available below. Submitted responses with consent given which were provided to the CAA as documents are published on our website.

Our consultation response document, CAP 1515 - Operating resilience of the UK's aviation infrastructure and the consumer interest, can be viewed on our website.


Published responses

View submitted responses where consent has been given to publish the response.


The UK already has some of the busiest and most productive airports in the world, facing challenges for maintaining day to day operating resilience (in this context, by resilience we mean the ability to anticipate, withstand and recover quickly from difficult day to day conditions[1]).

The Airports Commission delivered its final report and recommendations on the location of new UK runway capacity to the Government in July 2015. The Government has announced that it will make its decision on these recommendations in summer 2016.

The CAA has been clear in its advice to policy-makers in our responses to the Airports Commission[2]: consumers (passengers and cargo shippers) are already suffering from shortage of airport capacity in the South East of England - fewer routes and flights than there is demand for, more delay, higher prices and more fragile operations.

However, it will be at least 2025 before any new runway capacity in the South East of England will be opened, so whatever decisions are made by Government, the aviation industry must continue to work towards making existing infrastructure more resilient.

 Aviation also relies on the limited resource that is airspace to ensure that passengers, businesses, the military and leisure flyers enjoy the many benefits aviation brings. The basic structure of the UK’s airspace was developed over forty years ago. Since then there have been huge changes, including a hundred-fold increase in demand for aviation.

Throughout Europe there is a move to simplify and harmonise the way airspace and air traffic control is used through the Single European Sky project. In the UK and Ireland we’re meeting those and other issues through the Future Airspace Strategy (FAS) which sets out a plan to modernise airspace. FAS is a collaborative initiative between a range of stakeholders which sets the direction for modernisation, but does not include details or recommendations about specific structures or flightpaths. For more information see www.caa.co.uk/fas.

In the CAA’s Strategic Plan for 2016-2021, we committed to thinking creatively about how existing capacity can be planned and operated to meet stakeholders' expectations, and what the CAA can do to ensure this issue is addressed.

We wish to explore two key areas from a UK perspective, recognising that the issues are likely to be more severe in the South East of England.

  • How can the performance of the aviation network be improved or optimised?
  • How effective is the current regime, and how are consumer interests represented?

For each of these areas, we will engage with relevant government departments, and organisations, including airports, airlines, ACL[3] and air traffic control (ATC) providers as we develop our recommendations. We are also keen to gather evidence and suggestions from passenger groups and other industries to support and shape this work.

Hence this request for information, which sets out the key questions for each of the two areas above. You may wish to answer all or just some of the questions relevant to you. We would strongly encourage those making submissions to provide details of the evidence and data which support their arguments, to enable the CAA to understand more fully the basis on which conclusions have been reached.

Questions 1-4 are aimed at industry parties who plan how to use the UK's aviation infrastructure and in particular how they understand and balance aviation capacity and resilience trade-offs on behalf of passengers.

Questions 5-13 deal with the aviation industry decision making processes and assumptions that lead to the capacity available and the resulting airline schedules.

Questions 14-18 cover the day to day operational challenges facing the aviation industry in the future, and what can be done to improve operational resilience.

Finally, Questions 19-23 are concerned with sharing information, either between different industry parties, which could help to improve planning and performance, or that may be important for individual passengers when booking or during their journey.

We look forward to receiving submissions, and thank you in advance for your engagement.

[1] Resilience is sometimes taken to mean the ability to recover efficiently from a significant disruptive incident, such as a runway closure.  However, this topic has been considered elsewhere and is not the subject of this request for information.

[3] Airport Coordination Limited, the independent UK airport slot coordinator.


  • Residents affected by aviation
  • Organisations affected by aviation
  • Community groups
  • Airline passenger
  • General Aviation
  • Commercial airlines
  • UAV operators
  • Air taxi operators
  • Military
  • Airport operators
  • Air Navigation Service Providers
  • Industry representative bodies
  • Eurocontrol
  • Flightcrew
  • Air traffic control staff
  • Tour operators
  • Travel agents
  • Cargo shippers
  • Ground handling providers
  • Government departments
  • Regulatory bodies
  • Elected political representatives
  • European Aviation Safety Agency
  • European Commission
  • International Civil Aviation Organization
  • National representative organisations or institutes


  • Airspace design, categorisation and access
  • Airspace investment
  • Economic regulation
  • Capacity
  • Punctuality