My Lords, aviation has long been at the heart of the United Kingdom’s economic success. This is an industry that contributes at least £22 billion to the UK economy, along with over 230,000 jobs, and it is growing to meet rising demand. Passenger numbers have increased for seven consecutive years, and it is estimated that UK passenger traffic could increase from 292 million passengers in 2018 to 435 million by 2050. A thriving aviation sector brings more visitors to the UK, as well as increased trade and business investment. Our regional airports and the connections, jobs and investment they provide spread these benefits across the country.
Airspace is key, but it is a largely invisible component of the aviation sector. UK airspace is the gateway between Europe and North America, the world’s busiest intercontinental air corridor. Its efficient operation is crucial for managing international air traffic across the Atlantic. It is also some of the most complex airspace in the world, and it has not undergone significant change since the 1950s. It is now struggling to keep pace with the growing demand for aviation and to take advantage of the capability of today’s modern aircraft.
More and more traffic is being squeezed into the same congested areas of airspace. This leads to inefficient flight paths, an increase in carbon emissions, significant passenger delays and poor resilience to disruption, caused by either bad weather or technical difficulties. Without change, the situation will deteriorate further in the coming years. The skies over the UK will continue to get busier as the aviation industry expands and incorporates new types of airspace users such as unmanned aircraft and commercial spaceflight.
The DfT published the strategic case for airspace modernisation in February 2017. It estimated that by 2030 one in three flights arriving or leaving an airport is likely to be delayed by an average of 30 minutes. That is 72 times higher than in 2015 and would be very damaging for passengers, businesses, the economy, communities and the environment.
Our airspace is also increasingly being used by unmanned aircraft, often referred to as drones. There are exciting benefits to society of embracing unmanned aircraft technology. Our police, fire, and search and rescue services all regularly use unmanned aircraft in emergency situations to help save lives. They are also being used to inspect and maintain important national infrastructure, reducing the risk of accidents and driving productivity and efficiency.
Unmanned aircraft technology is expected to bring significant benefits to the UK’s economy in the coming years. However, the careless, inconsiderate and malicious use of drones and other unmanned aircraft poses a safety risk to others. The number of incidents of manned aircraft encountering unmanned aircraft increased from just six in 2014 to 126 in 2018. To maintain the UK’s position as a world leader in aviation, we must: ensure that regulations support sustainable growth; make journeys quicker, quieter and cleaner; and ensure that new technologies such as unmanned aircraft are used safely.
That is why the Government have introduced the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill, which is set out in three parts. The first modernises our airspace, making journeys quicker, quieter and cleaner; the second modernises the UK’s air traffic services, ensuring that aircraft can move safely and efficiently through our skies; the third improves public safety, through greater police enforcement powers to ensure safe and lawful use of unmanned aircraft.
I will now provide more detail on each of the three parts of the Bill, beginning with Part 1: airspace change proposals. For those who may be less familiar with the concept of airspace, it is the volume of space above ground level, basically extending as far as an aircraft can fly. An airspace change proposal relates to changes to managed airspace and the flight procedures and air traffic control procedures used within it. A programme of airspace modernisation is already under way to redesign the UK’s flightpaths to deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys, and more capacity for the benefit of those who use and are affected by UK airspace. It is being delivered by the aviation industry, and is co-sponsored by the independent regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority—the CAA—and the Government.
The UK’s airspace is highly interdependent, particularly over the south-east region. For airspace change to take place, airports and NATS—formerly National Air Traffic Services—have to work together to take into account the needs of neighbouring airports, as well as their own. If one airport pulls out of the programme, that could delay the whole modernisation programme, which in itself is a very complex undertaking. Should this situation occur, neither the Government nor the CAA currently has the powers to guarantee that airspace change is taken forward.
The Government are working closely with the industry to encourage voluntary participation. However, if an airport is unwilling to participate voluntarily, the new powers in the Bill will enable the Secretary of State to compel airports to bring forward airspace change proposals, ultimately ensuring that the aviation modernisation programme is delivered. This includes airspace changes that direct airports to release underused controlled airspace so that general aviation users can better access it.
On Part 2 of the Bill, air traffic services, it has been 18 years since the establishment of an economic regulatory regime for the provision of en-route air traffic control services. These services are provided by NATS (En Route) plc, helpfully referred to as NERL, which is regulated by the CAA. During those 18 years, the technological and economic landscape of air traffic services has changed rapidly. This has led to growing pressure to improve efficiency and resilience.
The current process for modifying the en-route air traffic services licence is inefficient and impractical. The CAA can make changes to a licence only with the consent of NERL, which is the licence holder, or via a determination by the Competition and Markets Authority—the CMA. This means that important changes to the licence could be delayed or may fail to be implemented at all. The licensing framework needs to be modernised to ensure that it remains fit for purpose, continues to build on the UK’s excellent safety record, satisfies demand, and continues to be resilient.
The provisions in the Bill will allow the CAA to take a more direct and independent approach, and make the licence changes it considers necessary to protect consumers and respond to changes in air traffic services over time. However, it is important to note that the licence holder—currently NERL—will still retain the right to appeal to the CMA against any changes if it so wishes.
The Bill also updates the enforcement and penalties regime to ensure that the CAA can effectively regulate NERL in the interests of users and consumers. This includes the introduction of more proportionate sanctions, bringing the regulatory regime into line with other modern regulatory systems. I draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to some minor technical government amendments concerning paragraphs 11, 12 and 13 of new Schedule B1 to the Transport Act 2000, which is contained in Schedule 5 to the Bill. These are purely technical amendments, but they aid the CAA’s ability effectively to manage NERL’s licence through the use of penalties.
On Part 3 of the Bill, unmanned aircraft—often known as drones—advances in technology have resulted in unmanned aircraft becoming increasingly available, capable, and easy to use. This has led to an increase in use for commercial purposes and has given a wider range of leisure users and hobbyists greater enjoyment. We are already starting to see the benefits of the commercial use of unmanned aircraft in areas such as surveying and search and rescue. As the technology continues to evolve, unmanned aircraft will be able to fly faster, for longer and at higher altitudes, unlocking the potential for new types of operation.
However, as this technology develops, so do the risks. Careless and inconsiderate users can cause a nuisance and pose a safety risk to others. There are also those who would deliberately use unmanned aircraft for criminal acts, whether to facilitate organised crime, disrupt our national infrastructure or, in extreme cases, commit acts of terrorism.
The drone incursions at Gatwick Airport in December 2018 resulted in major disruption, flight cancellations and significant economic damage, highlighting how significant the impact of malicious drone use can be. But this new legislation is not just about keeping our airports safe. The provisions in the Bill will help protect our prisons, civil nuclear sites and other critical infrastructure, which are vulnerable to the malicious use of unmanned aircraft. Drones are being used to smuggle drugs, weapons, mobile phones and tobacco into prisons. In 2018, there were 168 incidents of drones being used to smuggle items into prison. This places prisoners and prison staff at risk and undermines rehabilitation. In addition, between January 2017 and September 2019, eight civil nuclear sites across the UK reported 22 separate incidents involving drones.
The Government are committed to harnessing the positive impacts of unmanned aircraft and supporting the industry to grow, but this must be done in a way that protects the safety and security of people, other aircraft and sensitive sites. I want to be clear that these risks to safety and security apply to all unmanned aircraft, be they drones, model aircraft or other types of unmanned aircraft, which might become more widely used in the future.
The Government recognise that the majority of unmanned aircraft users already fly responsibly and within the law, and I am acutely aware of, and support, the strong safety culture fostered by the majority of model aircraft flyers and clubs. However, there have been instances of model aircraft being flown illegally. For example, in January 2019, just one month after the Gatwick incursion, a model flyer was convicted of flying a small unmanned aircraft without permission within the flight restriction zone around Heathrow Airport. It is essential that the regulatory framework in the UK reflects the reality of the risk posed by all users of unmanned aircraft.
As the misuse of unmanned aircraft has increased, challenges have emerged in pursuing effective enforcement and investigation. Work with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland has established that there are gaps in the powers available for police officers to investigate and prosecute those suspected of breaking the law.
For instance, there is no existing power that permits a constable to require a person to ground an unmanned aircraft, to stop and search a person, or to enter and search premises under warrant, if a constable believes that a relevant offence involving an unmanned aircraft is about to be, is in the process of being or has been committed. Take the following example: a remote pilot is suspected of breaching the Air Navigation Order by flying in a congested area. However, the police are unable to catch the drone pilot in the act. By the time the police officer arrives at the scene, the drone pilot has already put his drone away in the car. The police constable has no powers to search the car to find the drone and therefore no action can be taken.
The provisions in the Bill will address these operational gaps. The police will be given the necessary powers to require an unmanned aircraft to be grounded, to stop and search persons and to enter and search premises under warrant. They will also be given powers to: require a person to produce documentation or evidence of the permissions or exemptions required under the ANO 2016, such as permission to fly in the flight-restricted zone of a protected aerodrome; require a person to produce evidence of remote pilot competency and operator registration, which became a legal requirement for those wishing to fly small unmanned aircraft on 30 November 2019; and issue a fixed penalty notice for less serious unmanned aircraft-related offences. The Bill will also enable interference with property or wireless telegraphy in order to prevent or detect certain offences involving the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft.
The Government are determined to ensure that unmanned aircraft are used safely and securely, and to provide the right platform to harness the wide-ranging opportunities and benefits they can bring. It is not our intention to make it difficult to realise the potential of this technology, and for those who operate an aircraft responsibly and safely, they should not be an impediment. In fact, those who follow the rules have much to gain from the creation of safer and more secure conditions for all unmanned aircraft operations.
The Bill is critical for ensuring the efficient management and safe use of our skies. It will enable the UK to maintain its position as a world leader in aviation, ensuring that the legal framework keeps pace with new technology and supports sustainable growth in the aviation sector. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her comprehensive introduction to the Bill. I also declare a number of pecuniary interests, as a former airline pilot and the occasional user of uncontrolled airspace. The Bill deals with the important issues of air space, air traffic and unmanned aerial vehicles. Technology in the aviation sector has developed at an incredible pace and it is right for the Government to introduce legislation to accommodate this.
My party welcomed the premise behind the Bill when it was first announced, pertinently, in the months following the Gatwick incident in December 2018, but it is regrettable that there has been an immense delay in bringing it forward. With it now having been over a year since it was first announced, and with further months before it comes into force, I fear that offences may have been committed in the meantime.
Much of the substance of this legislation derives from consultation, and, while this is welcome, it is notable that it appears that it all took place prior to the 2018 Gatwick event. The incident highlighted the problem at hand, and it is important that the Government listen to those who responded, in particular on why the issue took so long to resolve. Can the Minister confirm whether there has been any consultation on the legislation with those who were involved in the 2018 Gatwick incident?
Moving on to the substance of the Bill, I am sure that the whole House will agree with the need to modernise our airspace. The difficulty comes when we seek to define what it means to modernise. While there is an appeal for flights to be faster and quieter, they must above all be greener and cleaner. Indeed, the Minister referred to this in her introductory speech, which outlined the massive increase in aviation activity that she foresees over the next 30 years. These ideals are not contradictory, but the latter—greener and cleaner—must take priority. I hope that the Government will spell out how they will ensure that growth is sustainable, and their intentions for the future offset of emissions.
The Government’s approach to realising their ambition is to give a greater voice to airports to decide on the changes they need to airspace. I would welcome an explanation of why this approach has been chosen, rather than one that is wholly nationally co-ordinated. I understand that concerns have been raised by smaller aerodromes which feel that their voices may become dwarfed. Indeed, it is not clear to me whether all stakeholders have been fully recognised and by what mechanism their concerns are to be addressed. This is partly because I now appreciate that I do not fully understand the process. I hope that the Minister will facilitate appropriate access to the responsible officials to address the gaps in my knowledge and that of other interested Peers, and hence avoid tedious probing amendments.
Much of the Bill can be summarised as the transferring of powers to the police, the CAA and the Secretary of State. It may be useful for the House to explore at later stages the limit of these powers and the extent to which both institutions are prepared. For example, the Bill provides powers for the police to stop and search individuals who may be flying drones illegally and provides powers for the CAA to require a person to provide information. Can the Government detail whether they intend to collect data on the demographics of individuals whom the powers have been exercised against? Where new powers will require resources, I hope that the Government will explain to what degree they will prepare the institutions.
The Bill will give additional responsibilities to the CAA, but it is as yet unclear whether any additional funding will be given. The CAA has sustained repeated funding cuts under government. As a result, a 2017 survey found that fewer than 10% of employees believed that they had time to undertake important safety activities to an acceptable standard. The CAA, and indeed the police, must be resourced to cope with their new powers and responsibilities. In particular, as regards the new powers for the Secretary of State, I hope that the Government can detail how they will provide for transparency and accountability. Further, I hope that the Government will set out their rationale for the nine Henry VIII powers among the 28 delegated powers.
Finally, I will raise a concern over the possible limitations of this Bill. The technology surrounding drones has developed at an incredible rate, and ownership continues to rise. The Government must keep abreast of the changing environment and respond accordingly. It is possible that this legislation already falls behind recent developments. It seems to ignore the dangers that could arise from drones that fly beyond lines of sight. Ultimately, this legislation must be prepared to deal with the drone technology of the future, and I fear that at present it does not.
The Government are right to legislate for the better management of UK airspace. It is only regrettable that this has not been debated sooner. The principle behind this Bill is one we can all agree on. On that basis, I see no reason to oppose this legislation, although I hope that, as amendments are laid at a later stage, the Government will recognise the limits of the Bill and work with the whole House to address concerns.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Randerson was unavoidably delayed, although I am pleased that she is now with us. Because of that late arrival, she will not take part in Second Reading and I will open for these Benches on this Bill. Thankfully, she has promised to do the heavy lifting when we get to the Committee and Report stages. She has already indicated to the Minister our general support for the Bill. In Committee we will probe the process of consultation in relation to airspace modernisation and suggest some tightening and extension of the regulation of drones.
This is an important Bill because aviation is an important industry, and how well we manage and regulate it impinges greatly on our future prosperity. As the Minister said in a letter to my noble friend Lady Randerson:
“Modernising our airspace is essential for maintaining the UK’s position as a world leader in aviation. The UK’s airspace has not undergone significant change since the 1960s and is now reaching capacity.”
In such circumstances the Bill is not just timely but—as the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, indicated—overdue.
In the 21st century any Bill about aviation has to clear a number of hurdles. It has to promote efficiency and competitiveness, improvements—especially, as the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, emphasised, in the environment, where we strive to be greener and cleaner—and safety. In the case of drones, it has to help fight against abuse and misuse of drone technology.
Last Wednesday evening I attended the amazing session organised by the Lord Speaker, when we heard from Sir David Attenborough about the climate change crisis. I noticed that Sir David was reluctant to demonise out of hand the industries that contribute to climate change and global warming. The truth is that it is the success of industries such as petrochemicals and aviation that have contributed to the success of the world economy over the last century and the living standards we now enjoy. We will need the skills and know-how of the industries we now brand as polluters if we are to retain the benefits of these industries while dealing with the downsides of their operation.
Airports are a good example. As a young MP, 40 years ago, the first Adjournment debate I obtained in the other place was on aircraft noise over Stockport. The debate was answered by a junior Minister called Norman Tebbit, who, like the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, had experience as an airline pilot. In raising the question of aircraft noise, I was raising a genuine concern of my constituents, but I never lost sight of the fact that Manchester Airport was, and is, a massive engine of growth and job creation in the north-west region.
Another experience which influenced my attitude to airports was in 1976, when I was sent by Lord Callaghan to Atlanta to meet some of the key officials who would be joining President-elect Jimmy Carter in Washington. I met one of his senior aides in Atlanta City Hall, and I complimented him on the success and obvious dynamism of the city. His reply has influenced my views ever since: “Well, it helps that Coca-Cola has its world headquarters in Atlanta, but the smartest decision we ever took was to campaign to be the southern hub airport for the USA. Airports are like rail heads were in the old west: they create economic activity and growth.” I believe that to be true, so how we use our airspace is very important, in both its economic and environmental impact. We have to assess the measures and powers in this Bill in the light of both.
The same is true of drones, which have quickly moved from futuristic toys to key means of efficient delivery of goods and services, and weapons of war. As with airports, it is easy to demonise drones and, as with almost every other technology, we have to accept that, along with the benefits, there comes abuse by the criminal and the irresponsible. The Bill highlights and provides remedies for abuse of drones, both in terms of airline safety and nuclear and prison security. We will undoubtedly stress-test the proposals in the Bill in Committee. I must confess that, from my time as a Minister at the Ministry of Justice, I retain a puzzlement why there are not the means to disable drones attempting to smuggle drugs or other contraband into prisons. It is important that, in the passage of the Bill, we examine thoroughly the real and present dangers posed. But we should do so while taking into account the warning contained in the briefing we received from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, which says that it is important that the legislation is enabling and does not create unintended consequences that might stifle innovation.
A similar concern was expressed by the Drone Delivery Group, which seeks to co-ordinate industry policy in this area. In its proposal published this month, the group acknowledges that the UK Government have been at the forefront of drone regulatory development since initial guidance published by the CAA in 2001. But it goes on to warn that, despite the very best-intentioned efforts, the overall government landscape is fractured, with different departments sponsoring, or at a minimum working with, different groups and approaches, with no clear national strategy to understand and ultimately develop and standardise an evidence-based UK unmanned air system traffic-management landscape. The House will want to test the legislation before us against such criticisms. As the Drone Delivery Group warns: for the UK to maintain its reputation as being at the forefront of this dynamic emerging industry, industry and government must collaborate in establishing a new approach. As ever, our test for legislation must be the test of efficiency in addressing the problems identified, balanced with proportionality in avoiding unintended consequences.
My attitude to flight controllers goes back to a time, over 40 years ago, when, while in government, I was offered a lift back from a conference in Germany in an RAF HS125, from Bonn to RAF Northolt. Because I was the only passenger, the pilot invited me to sit up front with him and to wear the ear cans to listen to air traffic control. I am a good flyer, but I have never been so scared in my life. The airspace seemed to be full of aircraft. When I expressed some concern, the pilot reassured me, “He’s doing a great job shuffling us through the pack. We’re on a clear run into Northolt.”
That experience left me with the impression that air traffic control is a kind of three-dimensional chess. However, we know that these days the aircraft is flying at its safest when under the control of its autopilot computer. It crossed my mind that air traffic control will be done more and more by artificial intelligence. As I said, I am a good flyer, but can the Minister assure me that in this brave new world, where the aeroplane is flown by computers and the traffic controlled by AI, there will still be a noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, or a noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, somewhere at the controls?
My Lords, I am happy to support the purposes of the Bill. The first two parts, dealing with our very dated airspace management and air traffic services, are timely. Periodic review and update of airport departure and approach procedures are necessary. No airline operator wants to climb away many miles in the wrong direction for their intended destination than strictly necessary for safe flight. No passenger wants to be delayed by protracted stacking of incoming flights leading to longer time being spent aloft. Adjustments, no doubt with some give and take, must be found. The CAA is well placed to co-ordinate and adjudicate as necessary. Looking to the future, much further, more complicated and, I dare say, controversial air traffic management arrangements will be required if and when urban air mobility, in the shape of unmanned flying taxis, for example, reaches our shores.
The Bill deals only with civil aviation, which raises the question: how does this meld with MoD and Royal Air Force requirements? RAF Northolt is a vital MoD and civilian-use airfield very close to Heathrow. Its departure and approach requirements must be fitted into the overall requirements of a very busy airspace. Elsewhere, Brize Norton, for example, which operates the larger types of RAF aircraft, including passenger and freight, will need departure and arrival flight paths that do not conflict with other civilian routings.
The RAF has representation in the CAA, which is important if MoD and civil requirements for airspace management and air traffic services are all to be taken into consideration and able to work effectively together. However, the Explanatory Memorandum and the Bill are silent on this obvious MoD interest. Maybe I missed it.
Regrettably, I was unable to attend the pre-briefing meeting arranged by the Minister to discuss the Bill, when I should have been able to raise and query these and other MoD-related issues. I have, however, given the Minister prior notice of my points and some others dealing with unmanned aircraft. For the record, I would welcome her response to them, either when winding up or by a letter later.
I welcome the part on unmanned aircraft, too. All flights need to take place without risk of collision. Like a bird strike, a small drone could smash the windscreen and injure those on the flight deck, or seriously damage or destroy the engine of an aircraft. It could be the cause of a fatal accident if a helicopter blade struck even a very small drone. A light unmanned aircraft could well be made unstable and plummet to earth if exposed to the significant wake turbulence created by large aircraft, endangering individuals on the ground.
Keeping all manned or unmanned aircraft well apart is fundamental to safety in the air. The incident at Gatwick in December 2018, which has been mentioned, gave us all a real live example of a highly annoying, disruptive and potentially disastrous event, for which Gatwick, the Department for Transport and, indeed, the Home Office seemed ill prepared. The lack of police or other authority powers to deal with the perpetrators or the offending drones became all too clear. The incentive that this Gatwick fright created—to devise real-time active disruption, even destruction, of illegally operated unmanned aircraft—has started to produce results, but can the Minister confirm that policy and legal cover are in place?
The consultation which led to Part 3 of the Bill covered many areas of weakness or incapacity that emerged from Gatwick’s experience, and the policy and legal approaches required. However, I would prefer part of the punishment for infringement by small unmanned aircraft to be confiscation by the police, and for lesser infringements to attract a fixed penalty notice. Knowing that one’s kit and airframe will be confiscated if the rules are flouted could be a powerful deterrent to illegal use, and a powerful deterrent including a fine or imprisonment is what is required. The risk of disaster if there is a collision, or even a near miss, is so great. Other considerations, such as alcohol tests for operators, come to mind. There may be good reasons why such requirements would not be workable, but I would welcome the Minister’s comments.
I note that permission to search the property of a suspected drone or SUA operator requires the approval of a chief constable, and that includes the chief constable of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. Presumably, similar arrangements cater for infringements of MoD holdings, and not just airfields. I am thinking of, for example, Faslane—the Royal Navy’s nuclear deterrent base—or the Atomic Weapons Establishment, because SUAs might mount more than just a surveillance camera, so possibly lethal dangers that they could carry should be considered.
The Bill stresses the responsibility of the pilot or controller of the drone. Is the Minister satisfied that the wording is comprehensive enough; for example, in paragraph 1 of Schedule 8? Does reference to the person controlling the unmanned aircraft also cover the case of the aircraft following an automated flight programme and not being controlled by an operator on the ground? The constable may have a problem requesting the automated drone to be grounded if that is how it has been programmed.
Referring to the fixed penalty notice section, the Explanatory Notes outline that an offence would be created had a person unknowingly flown within 50 metres of a building yet had caused no harm. It may not be for the passage of this Bill, but I foresee some difficulty in measuring and applying a 50-metre rule, possibly of short duration and without the advantage that a speed camera has of recording evidence on the road.
Finally, can the Minister confirm whether the consent of the devolved Administrations is required for any of these proposals, and if so, has it been obtained?
My Lords, I declare two interests. In the course of my professional activity as an executive search consultant, I work with a number of aerospace and defence companies, some of which are involved in UAV or counter-UAV and related technologies. I also hold a humble private pilot’s licence and am the owner and operator of a light aircraft. I recognise that I am in the presence of far superior former commercial and military pilots in your Lordships’ House; none the less, perhaps I have a perspective to offer.
This is essentially a technical Bill. So far, the only criticism I have heard has been from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, concerning why it was not brought forward more quickly. We can look forward to a good and typical House of Lords territory investigation of a technical Bill, but which of course has important policy consequences.
I support the Bill and commend the Government for bringing it forward. As we have heard, it addresses two largely but not entirely separate subjects: management of airspace and the arrangements for regulating the operation of UAVs. Part 1 of the Bill has flowed from pressure to manage our airspace efficiently and effectively and to modernise it. The term “modernisation” seems appealing, but this is a detailed field and any changes to the way in which our airspace is designed and operated have to be made on the basis of hard data. We have seen a tremendous growth in commercial air travel and in the performance of commercial and military aircraft. Among the biggest changes have been in computer technology, both airborne and terrestrial, and, in the advent of satellite communications, the associated global positioning system and related systems.
In the cockpit of my 1930s-designed aircraft I have the same pre-war flight instruments and gauges with which it would have come from the factory—a VHF radio which is more or less the same in operation as one made decades ago—but I also have a Mode S transponder, which identifies the aircraft in flight to an interrogating radar, and a highly sophisticated GPS-driven app which provides extraordinarily rich user-friendly navigation and traffic data that an airline pilot of the 1990s would have thought extremely impressive.
The technology has changed but the design of the airspace remains the same. In these days of high demand for air travel and major environmental pressure to reduce fuel burn and to control noise, there is clearly scope for enhancing the way in which aircraft are managed in controlled airspace. There is no argument against that sentiment, which has led the CAA to develop its airspace management strategy, from which the first two parts of the Bill are derived. This document was developed with a good deal of input from stakeholders utilising public consultation.
While it is clear that modern aircraft monitoring technology—both airborne self-reporting and ground-based—and computing power will fundamentally change what is possible from an airspace management perspective, looking further into the future our commercial airliners, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, noted, already have a great deal of highly sophisticated proven automated flight systems, including for landing. One can envisage a point in the future where ATC and aircraft are more heavily controlled by computer systems than by human-to-human interface via open VHF radio, which is an archaic and poor way of communicating data. I sympathise and empathise with the noble and gallant Lord, hearing all this chatter on an open system, whereas only discrete pieces of information are intended to be communicated from the ground to the air and vice versa. However, that future gazing is perhaps for another day.
As one would expect with a subject such as this, much of the output is highly complex technical detail which, no doubt, will be discussed off the Floor of your Lordships’ House by specialists rather than on the Floor in terms of policy development. However, that is not to say that there are not important matters for the House to consider.
I support the overall thrust of Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill, regarding the Secretary of State’s ability to give directions to third parties to co-operate with airspace management proposals. After all, we are talking about a national system that is part of an international system, and which requires an integrated rather than a piecemeal approach. It also requires taking full account of local factors, so it is a hybrid between a fully integrated and a local system. There is a great deal of detail to cover.
My primary interests in the Bill relate to general aviation and the interests I declared earlier. General aviation covers the recreational use of light aircraft, gliders, balloons, microlights and related businesses such as flight training, which is vital to our national economy and to producing the flow of professional pilots that the industry will need in the future and for the UK sector’s competitiveness. The Government have in the past made formal statements about the value to the UK economy and to the commercial aviation industry of a thriving general aviation sector and about the importance of safeguarding the necessary infrastructure such as airports and airspace.
With that background, I wish to make just a few detailed points. First, the voices of all stakeholders, including general aviation, should be heard when considering the classification and design of airspace. The CAA is not often commended by various parties, but it is a highly professional organisation that serves the United Kingdom extremely well and is known for high standards and deep knowledge. It is to be commended for the way it has gone about consultation, but weight should be given to the voices of all parties going forwards. It is no surprise that many airport operators wish to control ever more of the airspace around them, which can lead to unintended consequences as general aviation is sometimes forced into narrow bottlenecks of uncontrolled airspace.
Secondly, reclassification decisions should be taken only on the basis of an objective analysis of detailed data on a given subject. If it is decided that certain airspace should be reclassified as controlled, then proper arrangements should be put in place for all suitably qualified parties to be allowed access, under control, into that airspace. It is not acceptable for operators to deny GA access on the basis that they have insufficient resources to cope with the traffic in the airspace they have requested. That would seem to be a reasonable and balanced approach.
I was very pleased to hear the Minister emphasise in her introductory remarks that the reclassification of airspace should not be in one direction only. If it is shown that controlled airspace is not being used by controlled traffic, it should be released to uncontrolled use. There has been something of a ratchet effect going in one direction, and I was very pleased to hear that the Minister understands the argument that such airspace should be released when not required.
What is the Civil Aviation Authority’s plan for the network known as the lower airspace radar service, which assists traffic operating at lower altitudes? There have been a number of changes to that service. I know these are complex questions—the Minister might care to write to me in due course, rather than take up the time of the House.
Much of the debate we will have in Committee and on Report will concern drones. Clearly, the technology has developed extraordinarily rapidly and there is a potential benefit to society, commerce and the country; we should not forget that when we are considering the regulation of drones. However, regulation is required; we need a more robust system. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and other noble Lords talked about the incursion at Gatwick, which was as clear a demonstration as one could possibly want of the chaos that can be caused by a highly sophisticated £1,000 drone controlled by an iPhone from many kilometres away. We can only presume that the technology will keep developing and that the pace of development will accelerate. Drones will be lifting greater cargo and in due course, as we have heard, they will be lifting people and becoming autonomous flying systems. It is therefore essential that we put in a framework. It is extraordinarily difficulty to future-proof it, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, told us; none the less, the Bill is an excellent start and I commend it to the House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her comprehensive introduction to the Bill. I apologise to her for not coming to her briefing meeting, but I hope that nevertheless she can answer some of my points.
Broadly speaking, I support the intentions of this Bill. I guess I have two interests to declare. One is that I am vice-president of BALPA. That does not mean I have the expertise of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe or others in this House, but I am taking on board many of the points that it wishes to raise.
My second interest is slightly more tenuous, in that I inherited from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, who was here for the earlier part of the debate, responsibility for chairing the committee that produced this report in 2015 with many recommendations. In those days, we called drones “remotely piloted aircraft systems” but we all know what we are talking about. When I took on responsibility for following up the report, I found that Ministers were somewhat reluctant to take much action in the early days. Luckily, that has now changed. There was a Bill that was aborted in the last Parliament and there has been an extension to the protection of airfields, with 5-kilometre geofencing around them—a protection that now applies to many other secure sites. Therefore, we have made progress.
I will concentrate largely on the drone aspect of this subject. I recognise that nowadays we have to accept and support the technology for the many applications of drones that affect our lives and our security, but there is also the key issue of safety in the use of drones in the air and on the ground. In addition, a range of issues raised in the report produced by the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, have not been fully addressed and they are not really addressed in this Bill. Some relate to the safety of other users in the air and on the ground, but there are also the issues of insurance, licensing, privacy and liability, and indeed there is the question of how far the multiple operation of drones by one programme and one operator is compatible with our current regulations.
The Gatwick incident and the anxieties that it raised have obviously increased the public profile of drones and the level of concern. Those concerns relate not just to an individual collision, disastrous though that might be, but to a total system being threatened by a drone being operated wrongly, whether it be the deliberate endangering of the operation of an airport or airfield, terrorism or simply a number of kids getting hold of these machines and causing disruption for a laugh. We have to develop a regulatory system that deals with both the big security issues and an individual drone being used in the wrong way.
The design and the use of unmanned and manned aircraft, and the components of manned aircraft, are important considerations and things that we need to follow through in this legislation. For example, limited testing has shown that the collision between a medium-sized drone and a screen could be catastrophic—for the screen, the flight crew and, potentially, for the passengers. The incursion of a medium or large drone into a jet engine could also be catastrophic. As I understand it, the limited testing that there has been has not turned into a fully fledged test of new aero engines, or indeed a way of ensuring the resilience of existing in-service engines. The certification process for aero engines is therefore not yet in place.
Standard testing is urgently required so that the ingestion of a drone, which could be much more damaging than the ingestion of a bird—which is part of the standard testing and certification operations—is taken fully on board. Certainly at the larger end of drones, very serious damage could be done to an engine, as well as to the body of an aircraft. However, even a small metallic drone could do serious damage, particularly to the operation of helicopter blades and so forth. It is the responsibility of the aerospace industry internationally but also of the Government to ensure that we mandate drone ingestion as part of the certification of aero engines.
We also need some changes in the air traffic control regulations to ensure adequate separation. That has long been a key feature of air traffic control between aircraft to mitigate the effects of turbulence, but it can also apply in relation to the relationship between aircraft and drones. Again, the interrelationship between helicopters and drones is probably the most acute in this respect; it could cause damage to both the helicopter and the drone as well as, potentially, damage on the ground. I hope that all these things can be addressed in the technical detail of the Bill.
I also have a number of points relating to enforcement. In recent years we have seen a big increase in the use of drones in all sorts of quite legitimate commercial operations. We have also seen the use of drones effectively for pleasure and some criminal use of them. I would like to consider in the course of the Bill strengthening the enforcement side so that not only are all operators licensed but—in my view—they have to be over 18, they have a clear record, they are not under the influence of drink or drugs and the way in which they operate and treat those drones is built into the enforcement and checking system and the police powers over them.
There is the question of, for example, deliberately removing in-built safety features from drones such as the geofencing requirements, the requirements for lights on larger drones and the telemetry features of the transponder that allow the drone to respond to the geofencing. If we remove some of those, the drone becomes a much more dangerous machine and, for all sorts of reasons, it is possible that users might be tempted to use it. Indeed, in the extreme case, there is the deliberate weaponisation of drones: terrorists or others might add blades or other damaging features to the drones or use them for carrying arms or explosives. Those are very serious breaches of safety and security, not only of a single aircraft but of a whole aircraft system and the whole area.
I also suggest that the individual machines as well as the operators need to be licensed. That is after all the situation regarding vehicles both in the air and on the ground, and there is no reason why it should not apply in this case.
I agree entirely with my noble friend, and I think there are elements within the industry itself that recognise that. As with other new technologies, an industry begins to come of age when it begins to accept and contribute to better regulation to mitigate the problems in its sector.
I will also be suggesting that we need to look explicitly at the police powers in this area. The powers to ground an aircraft are not clear. The ability to enter premises or stop and search for an aircraft or for elements of an aircraft are also not yet clear. While I recognise the need for FPN for minor offences, it needs to be clearer what those offences actually are. I would also be grateful if the Minister spelled out a little how far we are getting with counterdrone technology and how rapidly we might see that in place.
I had a couple of points on Parts 1 and 2, but my voice is giving out. I hope the Minister can respond to the points that I have made.
My Lords, it is my privilege to have been an RAF pilot, flying both fixed-wing pistons and jets. I have flown extensively in Pakistan, Canada and the United Kingdom. More recently, my family gave me an hour in a Tiger Moth for my 80th birthday, so I have gone from one end of the aircraft spectrum to the other. I continue to have a deep interest in this whole industry. Indeed, around the corner from where I live is the Shuttleworth Collection of interwar and model aircraft.
It is fair to say—I do not think the Minister will disagree—that we have not exactly been in the vanguard of control. I looked back at my own references in this House and they go back to 2015, so it is five years since we first started discussing these problems. Certainly, for a long time, the USA, France and the Republic of Ireland were ahead of us in this area of consideration. However, I say a big thank you to my party and the Government now in power. In the general election campaign, it was emphasised that we would legislate on this and here we are, one month on. I congratulate those who have ensured that this happens today.
I too will confine my remarks to the areas covered in Part 3 of the Explanatory Notes. I will try not to repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, but we are inevitably covering the same ground to a degree. The key thing that is drilled into any pilot is to keep manned aircraft separate from unmanned aircraft in flight. So far, we have done only a limited amount of testing on the impact of this. That limited amount of research shows that, when problems happen, the result is catastrophic. If something is catastrophic, we ought to take it extremely seriously. We know the risks are particularly bad for helicopters, but it is almost as bad for other aircraft. We know that engine ingestion testing has not yet been completed. That ought to be a priority for those involved in this. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, a lot of work has been done on bird impact. If we can do it for birds, we jolly well ought to get on and do it for drones.
An area which has always been there, but which is even more important now, is wake turbulence. This is a problem for anybody who is flying, but it is nowhere near as big a problem as it is with the difference between a normal manned aircraft and a drone. With wake turbulence, it is highly likely that a drone will be tossed away, with ghastly effects. As the law currently stands, there is no provision for a mandatory minimum wake turbulence separation between drones and aircraft. It seems to me that work should be done on this as a priority.
The Air Navigation Order 2016 includes regulations on unmanned aircraft and new regulations were introduced on 30 November last year. I think it is the view of those of us who take an interest that it would be preferable for deterrence and enforcement if each unmanned aircraft were required to be registered. It has already been mentioned that drivers of road vehicles have to do that. I am the owner of a couple of shotguns. Each of those has to be registered and kept in a locked cupboard which is inspected by the local constabulary. All I can say is that they are an awful lot less dangerous than a situation with a drone.
The Bill includes reference to fixed penalty notices. That is fine, but I hope that when we come to discuss this, we shall differentiate between what I might call small, routine offences and those that are much more serious. If it is serious offences, fixed penalty notices are not an adequate deterrent.
Mention has been made of the need to train the police on their drone enforcement powers. Obviously, that is an area that we have to look at.
There are additional measures, a couple of which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I say merely, as did he, that we need to think about these very seriously. On the creation of a criminal offence of weaponizing a drone, that does not necessarily mean putting a bomb on it or anything else; it means altering the drone sufficiently to make it a flying weapon, without it having any combustible material on board. The same applies to safety features being removed.
Mention has been made of drug and alcohol laws coming into line for manned aviation. I think that exactly the same should apply to drones. It is absolutely right that a minimum age should be set, with 18 as an absolute minimum.
Then there is the question of swarming, which I do not think anybody has raised. I suppose that I know a bit more about this, as I am next door to Shuttleworth. I can just see the delight that some talented young man or woman would have in flying two, three or four drones at a time. That has the potential to be exceedingly dangerous, and it should be legislated against. It might be great fun, but it is nevertheless terribly dangerous.
I thank my noble friend on the Front Bench for introducing the Bill. We shall work with her in trying to produce good law for this fascinating area of aviation.
My Lords, I do not intend to rehearse what others have said, only to underline a few things. May I turn to resources? It is essential that the Civil Aviation Authority has sufficient resources to do the job it is asked to do. If it is being kept short of resources, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, I hope that the Minister can assure the House that it will have the resources to do what is asked of it. They are well respected, hard-working people, but they do not deserve to spend a lot of their time fighting over their budget.
In terms of resources, however, I am more concerned about the responsibilities being put on the police. A lot of legislation has passed extra responsibility to the police, be it looking out for knife crime, looking out for drug crime or looking out for terrorism. I know that the police are hopelessly stretched. I seek an assurance from the Government that, if the police are to be given extra responsibilities under this legislation, the resources at their disposal will be increased so that they can train specialist officers to deal with them. It is not something that—if I may put it this way— PC Plod from around the corner can claim to have specialist knowledge of; there will need to be intelligent people behind any enforcement.
It also strikes me that a lot of private benefit is likely to come from the use of drones. I think all of us can think of things that might happen, from the delivery of parcels by Amazon to people filming for television—all sorts of things. I urge the Government to make sure that the people doing these things for private gain—they will not do them for free—contribute something in the way of licence fees to whoever is to enforce the law, because one without the other is quite meaningless.
I also reiterate what has been said about powerful deterrents. You have to decide who you are dealing with. Finding powerful deterrents for an individual may be quite easy, but for companies such as Sky or Amazon deterrents must have teeth in order to bite. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby: there comes a point when people should not receive fixed-penalty notices, however big, if they do not obey the law. They should come before a court to explain what they are doing and answer for it. We are talking about potentially dangerous activities.
The noble Lord will remember Christmas a year ago when the drone—or drones—caused so much trouble at Gatwick. The police and the authorities seemed to have great difficulty in identifying the drone and the person controlling it. It is fine to have more police powers, but how will they be able to use them unless there is some form of identification for the drone or the operator?
I think that probably comes down to licensing operators and drones.
My final point is about the disabling of stray drones, or drones that should not be there. I am no expert on aviation, but has consideration been given to the means of disabling drones engaged in criminal activity or straying from where they should be?
My Lords, in general I welcome the Bill. I declare my interest as a pilot, a former airport board member and chair of the inquiry set up by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation last year, looking into the UK’s lower airspace. I will concentrate most of my remarks on airspace elements in the Bill. First, I recognise the importance of the aviation 2050 consultation paper, which was widely responded to. It was extremely helpful in our discussions and will, no doubt, be helpful to the Government. There were general remarks about the constricted nature of airspace in this country, especially in the south of England, where there is a big mix of general aviation and non-general aviation traffic.
As a consequence of the growth in aviation generally in this country, the CAA and the Department for Transport have both rightly recognised how complex UK airspace is—possibly the most complex in the world. Much of the design and principles have not changed significantly since the 1950s or 1960s, as the Minister indicated in her opening remarks. As my noble friend Lord Goschen and other noble Lords have said, there have, of course, been changes in technology. We have moved on, but the administrative and legislative support has not changed to match them. The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to change, remove or apply an airspace change by directing a party to make such a change. I hope that the Government have properly considered what sort of ethos needs to apply here. I appreciate that we cannot remove the regulations set out in Section 70 of the Transport Act 2000, but it is important to note that those legislative requirements that govern how the CAA must manage its airspace are still significantly important. I will return to the CAA’s responsibility in a moment. When exercising its function, the CAA should, of course, consider safety, primarily, then efficiency and also the equitable treatment of all airspace users, together with a high level of proportionality. Again, the issue of proportionality is important. Our inquiry last year declared that we should always apply the criteria of safety, proportionality and need when looking at changes in UK airspace.
It is also important that proposals made would inevitably extend the powers of the CAA to some extent. I was interested to hear other noble Lords’ references to maintaining the resources of the CAA in order for it to do its job both now and in the future. I very much believe that the CAA must have some form of independent review procedure in any changes or proposals for change that it wants to make, while maintaining the criteria to which I have already referred. I think it is important, in relation to its resources, that the Government should consider exempting the airspace department of the CAA from the financial return requirement. This would allow it to take on the extra responsibilities without worrying about the financial consequences. I also welcome, generally, a sensible enforcement and appeals approach to future airspace diktats. The inevitability of court action is not conducive to speedy and equitable outcomes and it does little to achieve mutually sustainable outcomes.
Throughout our inquiry we were reminded of the pressing need to be able to remove airspace when it is not demonstrably required. Other noble Lords have also, rightly, pointed this out. It is important that such a reduction in airspace is available to us. The Minister’s predecessor, my noble friend Lady Sugg, reassured me in a Written Answer to a Question I raised in March 2019 that,
“a key policy objective is to ensure that the UK has the minimum volume of controlled airspace consistent with safe and efficient air traffic operations”.
How will the Government actually achieve this? Where is the power for the Government or the CAA to maintain it? Surely this must include powers to remove controlled airspace. Indeed, sometimes one wonders about airport operations, particularly, which build up enormous areas of controlled airspace that are not required in due course. One almost feels that this is a virility symbol, or at the very least some form of asset build-up—a bit like a builder’s landbank in the domestic sector—by which some airports wish to increase their asset value through the size of their controlled airspace. It is almost as bad as the use of slots by airlines, which become almost the most valuable part of the entire operation of an airline.
I welcome the proposals for a review process for airspace change programmes and new powers for the Government to require controllers of airspace to consult where appropriate. This must obviously include circumstances, as I said, where there may be a justification for reducing airspace as much as where there is a wish to increase it.
I shall refer briefly to the issue of pressure on those involved. I very much respect the work of air traffic controllers. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to artificial intelligence and then we heard from my noble friend Lord Naseby, who displays an enormous amount of intelligence which is not computerised but arises from his broad experience. I believe that it is important that we will be relying on individual air traffic controllers—real people—and the pressure on them of any changes we make must be taken fully into account.
I said that I would not refer to much other than airspace, and I do not wish to divert into the question of drones, but I feel that the challenge of the arrival of these unmanned objects puts great pressure and tension on the issue of airspace and those who control it. As technology rapidly improves, it makes it possible to create more flexible airspace. We concluded in our inquiry that systems such as PilotAware and others, coupled with digitisation and the ease of access to NOTAMs—notices to airmen—mean that pilots are far better prepared than they have ever been in the past. Together with all these changes, I hope that the Government will realise that we need to make sure that pilots are adequately trained to deal with not only technology but the changes that are made to airspace and to the rules and requirements upon them of traversing across and outside of airspace.
General aviation in the UK is a substantial contributor to our GDP, greater than some of the other areas we spend a lot of time debating. I will not pick any in particular except to mention that it is greater than fisheries, for example, which is a very difficult subject. We must understand that general aviation is not only important to this country and its future but certainly deserves our full support and encouragement.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to speak at Second Reading and to follow my noble friend Lord Kirkhope, who is to be congratulated on the report he produced, having conducted the inquiry into airspace on behalf of the all-party group. I declare an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation and as a user of airspace as an aircraft operator and general aviation pilot.
I speak in support of the Government. Frankly, I am relieved that they are taking swift action to tackle the problem of airspace reform, which is becoming urgent. UK skies are some of the busiest in the world, due to our geographical positioning—a situation that will get only worse as the global aviation industry grows. As a country, we should not be afraid of a growing industry; we should embrace it. Technological advancement is bringing us quieter, greener and more efficient commercial aircraft, with the eventual goal of full electrification.
Today’s jet aircraft are 80% more fuel-efficient than they were in the 1960s, when they first came into widespread use. Some 80% of aviation CO2 emissions comes from flights of over 1,500 kilometres, for which no other practical mode of transport is available. By 2036, it is forecast that aviation will directly contribute $1.5 trillion to world GDP.
However, industry growth is beside the point; our skies are already overcrowded, even under current traffic levels, and current UK systems are struggling. Therefore, it is right and proper that measures be taken at a strategic level to ease congestion and bring UK airspace in line with modern international standards. It is important that the Secretary of State has these powers to move the modernisation programme forward.
It must be recognised that the Bill does not go into detail about how a strategic modernisation programme should be undertaken by the CAA; it simply gives the power for the Secretary of State to direct that a change should happen. Airspace should be considered a limited common resource. Diverse user groups all compete for the same volumes of sky, and the right of access for everyone must be protected as a central principle of airspace strategy. I always think of it as akin to the right to roam in the countryside. Government, and by extension the CAA, should be the neutral arbiter of airspace, actively protecting the rights of all users to access common airspace resources.
Currently, a worrying attitude exists among airport operators that the size of controlled airspace around a facility is linked to the value of that facility—almost treating it as land attached to a property. This attitude has incentivised bad airspace change proposals based on bogus projected traffic figures. More must be done to prevent airports seeing their controlled airspace as linked with the commercial value of a site. Decisions made on individual airspace change proposals in isolation must be put in the perspective of overall strategic worth and reviewed.
For example, the extremely controversial introduction of class D and E airspace around Farnborough, which comes into force on 27 February, has been sought by the operator based on predicted traffic numbers but was seemingly made without due appreciation for other users. Both the thriving Lasham Gliding Society—incidentally, the world’s largest club of its kind—and the many GA operators in that area will be negatively impacted by the reduction of their “right to roam” in the area. Yet, under previous rules there would be no way to challenge a decision once it was made. Should these ambitious traffic numbers fail to materialise, nothing could be done to return the airspace to common use. I therefore welcome the very important provision in the Bill to introduce a mechanism to review airspace changes once they have been activated, which, astonishingly, is not an option currently available to the CAA.
Controlled airspace in the UK, especially around London, is currently very complex and not fit for purpose. Much of the basic structure managing the skies above our heads was created in the 1950s, as has been said, and is designed to accommodate the performance of, for example, DC-3s, the old Stratocruisers, Constellations and similar aircraft. Current high-performance jets are a world away from these legacy airliners, and our airspace must be updated to reflect it. Many of your Lordships will have seen the article in the Times today detailing a new report, commissioned by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which suggests that aircraft noise is blighting the lives of more people than the Government admit. Clever airspace design, facilitated by the new review mechanism in this legislation, could be used to address this problem and take many more people out of aircraft noise zones.
Modern jets are capable of rapid climbs and descents. It is even advantageous for them to do so, as at higher levels jets are both more fuel-efficient and further away from communities on the ground. This performance gap means that large chunks of controlled airspace are not used at all, with airliners using tight corridors in and out of airports. Large chunks of the air are, therefore, absurdly left with no traffic at all but remain under control. It has always seemed strange to me that large zones, such as in the London area, have angular corners—areas restricted to GA but never used by commercial traffic.
The utterly enormous London Terminal Manoeuvring Area, which covers most of the south of England, in some places restricts light aircraft to flight below 2,500 feet, while jets fly many thousands of feet above. It seems not just bonkers but wrong that light aircraft users are denied access to this airspace for the sake of a decision made decades ago. I see no compelling safety case for zones around London to be as large as they currently are. What is worse, our large zones force traffic that cannot access the zones into tight corridors, where the risk of a mid-air collision is made higher. New powers to review and reduce airspace must be used with vigour to cut down redundant controlled airspace that is never visited by jets. It is right, proper and justified to open up areas of this common air for use by general aviation.
While the Bill is a valuable step towards airspace reform, allowing the Government to direct necessary changes, it does not address the fundamental problems with the CAA’s airspace change process. CAP 1616, the current guidance on the regulatory process for changing notified airspace design, needs to be reformed to improve the way the CAA considers proposals. Process needs to come more in line with principles of planning, moving from an individual to a corporate process, including mechanisms for objection before a court stage, and potentially measures akin to Section 106 agreements for airspace increases. When regulating lower airspace, there must be recognition that some risk is unavoidable. Processes must be altered to ensure that the responsibility for risk in an airspace change does not fall on individuals to facilitate more reasoned decision-making by regulators.
One aspect not considered by the Bill is who will shoulder the cost of airspace changes directed by the Secretary of State—I would very much welcome comment on this by the Minister. Some airfields may be directed out of necessity to submit changes but will potentially not have funding or resources to do so. Care must be taken by the Secretary of State not to impose airspace change processes on businesses that can ill afford to spend resources on such an undertaking.
The Bill also introduces important and necessary measures to allow the police to enforce regulations on drone use. It must be recognised that 99% of drone operators in the UK do so in accordance with the rules and cause no nuisance to the rest of aviation. However, it must also be recognised that drones have the potential to be used against aviation maliciously; it is good that police will now have the powers to manage such incidents swiftly.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said about training, to accompany this new law, the Government must make provision to train police officers on the operational use of these new powers to ensure that they are effective in what the Government intend them to achieve, both practically and technically. Evidence-gathering is especially important if drone incursion incidents are to be investigated properly. Police need to be aware of the specific challenges that an aviation environment brings in this process, where a drone can be out of the operator’s line of sight.
Overall, the Bill is a great step forward and brings in much needed powers for the Secretary of State to direct a programme of modernisation. I hope the Government will take this forward—keeping, I trust, a principle of maximum access to lower airspace as a key priority when directing air navigation service providers to make changes.
My Lords, I want to speak briefly on Part 3 of the Bill, entitled “Unmanned Aircraft”.
I understand that the Bill makes new provisions
“for constables to allow them to better enforce UA provisions in the ANO 2016”
“powers to require an unmanned aircraft to be grounded, powers to stop and search persons or vehicles in specific circumstances, powers to enter and search premises under warrant, and powers to issue Fixed Penalty Notices”.
However, there is one thing it does not do. It does not appear to give the authorities the power to confiscate equipment. I would have thought that critical in making the Bill work. I would have thought it would concentrate the minds of people using equipment irresponsibly or illegally to know that their equipment, some of it quite expensive, could be confiscated in certain circumstances. The Government should issue guidelines on the circumstances in which equipment could be confiscated in the event that they are prepared to move an amendment to deal with this issue in Committee.
My Lords, I appear unique in being able to speak in the debate without having any direct specialist knowledge or experience of the issues in the Bill.
The Bill confers new government powers on changing the design of airspace, alters the licensing framework for air traffic control and provides new powers for police and prison authorities to deal with the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft, including drones and model aircraft. As I understand it, the terms of the Bill apply to the whole of the United Kingdom, with the unmanned aircraft provisions being subject to legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
In February this year, there were approximately 5,000 permitted drone operators in UK airspace. The Department for Transport predicts that there will be some 17,000 commercial drone operators in the United Kingdom by 2024, and another study predicts that there could be 76,000 drones operating in UK airspace by 2030.
Unmanned aircraft are being used to great positive effect across a range of industries and sectors. However, on the downside, unmanned aircraft are also being used more and more in a negative or potentially dangerous way. There has been an increase in incidents of unmanned aircraft coming within unsafe distances to manned aircraft, with six such incidents in 2014 and 126 in 2018, as the Minister said.
There was a significant such incident which caused major disruption at Gatwick Airport in December 2018, although it appears that the consultation in the run-up to the formulation of this Bill all took place prior to that incident. Can the Government confirm if that was the case—a point raised by my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe—and, if so, does that mean that they consider that no further useful information or experience could be or was gleaned as a result of the incident at Gatwick Airport by any major party affected or involved that should be reflected in the provisions of this Bill?
My noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe has set out the basis of our position in support of the Bill in principle, not least in relation to Parts 1 and 2. Most of my comments will be directed at Part 3, on the new powers in relation to the use or misuse of unmanned aircraft. The current regulatory framework for unmanned aircraft is provided for in the Air Navigation Order 2016 and the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990. The use of an unmanned aircraft in a manner designed to cause disruption or harm is, not surprisingly, prohibited, and it is currently also an offence to endanger aircraft with an unmanned aircraft, for drone pilots to fly drones near people or property, and for drone pilots not to keep drones within line of sight. Since July 2018, all drones have been banned from flying above 400 feet across the United Kingdom and within 1 kilometre of protected airport boundaries. Since the end of last November, it has been a legal requirement for all drone operators to register themselves with the Civil Aviation Authority and for drone pilots to complete an online pilot competency test. 1 am not clear whether the not flying within 1 kilometre of protected airport boundaries has now been extended; perhaps the Government could clarify the point, at least for my benefit.
Unmanned aircraft offences under the 2016 Air Navigation Order are mainly summary-only offences, which also means that the existing entry and search powers applicable to indictable offences cannot be used. Part 3 of the Bill develops the regulatory framework for unmanned aircraft to address the issue of misuse of such aircraft. The police are to be given powers to ground unmanned aircraft, to stop and search in specific circumstances, to enter and search under warrant, and to issue fixed penalty notices in certain situations. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours has just raised the issue of powers in respect of confiscation and has asked a question on that score. Powers are also given to enable the use of counter-unmanned technologies to prevent the use of unmanned aircraft to commit certain offences under existing legislation.
The Bill contains 28 delegated powers, nine of which are Henry VIII powers, to which my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe referred. Five of these Henry VIII powers concern the provisions in Part 2 regarding air traffic services and four relate to the provisions in Part 3 regarding unmanned aircraft. The Government have stated that these delegated powers, including all the Henry VIII powers, are necessary and justified. That may of course be the case, but at this stage it would be helpful if, prior to Committee, the Government could give their reasons for saying that the use of Henry VIII powers in each of the nine cases is unavoidable or is essential to avoid unacceptable and unnecessary delay or difficulty.
I mentioned earlier the increase in the number of incidents of unmanned aircraft coming within unsafe distances of manned aircraft. What Government evaluation has been carried out of the outcome of a collision between a drone and a manned aircraft —an issue raised by my noble friend Lord Whitty? Further, what steps have been or are being taken in the light of that evaluation? How serious is such a collision likely to be and how serious could it be? Likewise, what evaluation has been made of the likelihood and consequences of a drone being sucked into a jet engine of a manned aircraft? Aviation law provides for a minimum separation distance between aircraft to address the risk from wake turbulence. What is the minimum wake turbulence separation between drones and aircraft? Do the terms of this Bill apply to a greater or lesser degree to all unmanned aircraft or only unmanned aircraft within specified weights and sizes?
The Airport Operators Association has called for mandatory geofencing software in drones and the mandatory identification of drones to help airports identify genuine threats to safety. What is the Government’s response to the AOA on this?
The Bill gives a police officer the power to require a person to ground an unmanned aircraft if the officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the person is controlling the unmanned aircraft. Is it the Government’s view that any unmanned aircraft that is off the ground must, by that very fact, have a person controlling it at all times while it is off the ground, and thus fall within the terms of this provision in the Bill? Are there any circumstances in which it could be argued—as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, mentioned—that, at a particular point in time, nobody is controlling an unmanned aircraft that is off the ground?
In addition, what powers are available in this regard if the unmanned aircraft is being controlled by a person operating it from outside the United Kingdom or from within our coastal waters? Does this Bill, as I assume, not address that situation in view of the requirement, which I believe remains, that an unmanned aircraft must always be in the line of vision of the operator?
Schedule 10 deals with fixed penalties for offences relating to unmanned aircraft, but then states:
“The Secretary of State may, by regulations, prescribe offences as fixed penalty offences for the purposes of this Schedule.”
I believe that the Government have already said that one such offence might be operating a drone too close to a building without realising it. Can the Government, prior to Committee, give some further examples of the kind of offences that it is intended should be dealt with by a fixed penalty notice rather than by the alleged perpetrator being brought to court?
Schedule 10 refers to lack of intent. Does that mean that under the Bill a person endangering an aircraft, manned or unmanned, through carelessness or lack of knowledge or training could be given a fixed penalty on the basis that there was no evidence of any intent to endanger an aircraft? If that is the case under Schedule 10 —at the moment I assume that it is not—that would appear to go against existing general aviation rules that apply to everyone, which provide that:
“A person must not recklessly or negligently act in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft, or any person in an aircraft.”
Will all police officers be trained to be competent—the key word there is “all”—to apply the terms of this Bill in relation to unmanned aircraft? What additional resources do the Government consider that the police will need to be able to use the powers conferred by this Bill to maximum effect?
On the subject of additional resources, what impact do the Government consider that this Bill will have on the responsibilities and workload of the Civil Aviation Authority? Will it be provided with additional resources and, if so, what resources—or is it the Government’s view either that the Civil Aviation Authority already has slack or that, while some parts of the Bill increase workload and responsibility, other parts reduce the workload and responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority?
The Police Act 1997 enables named public authorities to authorise property or wireless telegraphy interference where it is considered necessary to prevent or detect serious crime. Serious crime is defined in the Act in a number of ways, including by reference to offences for which a person
“could reasonably be expected to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three years or more”.
In reality, various offences involving unmanned aircraft have not involved sentences of imprisonment for three years or more. Other offences, including offences under prisons legislation relating to conveying articles into prisons, have maximum sentences of less than three years. As a result, unmanned aircraft may be used to commit offences that would not constitute a serious crime as defined in the Police Act 1997, with its reference to
“reasonably be expected to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three years or more”.
Consequently, the statutory power of named public authorities to authorise property interference or interference with wireless telegraphy that would otherwise be unlawful is compromised.
To overcome this, the Bill provides, through an amendment to the relevant section of the Police Act 1997, for the authorisation of property interference and interference with wireless telegraphy when certain offences have been committed using an unmanned aircraft. Why have the Government proposed dealing with the matter in this way? Why have they, in effect, either said that unmanned aircraft offences are not actually serious offences as currently defined under the Police Act 1997 with the expectation of imprisonment for three years or more, or, alternatively, decided that for authorising property or wireless telegraphy interference in respect of offences using an unmanned aircraft, the definition of serious crime has been so lowered that it does not apparently include any reference to a reasonable expectation of a certain term of imprisonment for the offence which the interference being authorised is designed to prevent or deter?
Since offences involving the misuse of unmanned aircraft can have potentially very serious consequences, why have the Government decided that the threshold for authorising property or wireless telegraphy interference should be lowered in this way to include apparently minor offences involving the use of unmanned aircraft as well? Surely the Government’s efforts should be directed towards more appropriate terms of imprisonment being applied than appears to be the case now, at least for offences involving the use of unmanned aircraft which constitute a threat to air safety.
Likewise, the provisions of Schedule 8 on the power of a constable to stop and search people or vehicles would appear to cover suspicion of not just serious crime but non-serious crime. Could the Government say whether that is the case, and indicate in specific terms the lowest level of offence, or suspected offence, against which the stop-and-search powers in Schedule 8 could be exercised by a police officer? That information would be helpful prior to Committee.
My noble friend Lord Whitty raised a number of further measures that could be included in the Bill, such as a criminal offence of weaponising a drone; an offence of modifying a drone to disable built-in safety features; bringing drugs and alcohol rules in line with those for manned aviation; a minimum age for operating a drone; and a requirement to register each unmanned aircraft, as well as the operator. Similar and other points and questions have been raised by other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe. I hope that the Government will be able to respond to them all, either now or before Committee.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in today’s wide-ranging debate. The Government will respond to all the questions raised—unfortunately, probably not all today, but I will endeavour to get a communal letter out to all noble Lords who have participated so that, in advance of Committee, we have provided the correct information. The quality of contributions has been significant, and I will try to rattle through as many of the issues raised as I possibly can.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, my noble friend Lord Naseby and other contributors wondered whether the Government have been too complacent about drones and whether the timetable was sufficient to get the legislation to your Lordships’ House. There has of course been an election, and various other hiatuses in the progression of legislation through Parliament. However, that relates only to this Bill, and the Government have been absolutely on top of making sure that appropriate changes have been made to the Air Navigation Order 2016 and to previous air navigation orders. Legislatively, the Aviation and Maritime Security Act has been in place for many years, so regulations have been in place. The Bill before your Lordships’ House today gives the police powers to enforce regulations that have been in place for some time.
If that were not enough, we now have more regulation coming from the EU in the form of a delegated Act and an implementing Act. The delegated Act deals with product specifications for drones and the implementing Act deals with drone registration and operator elements, such as we in this country have already put in place. I therefore believe that the regulatory framework is there for us to use. Now, as a Government, we need to make sure that the police have ability to take that forward.
A number of noble Lords noted that the police powers were originally consulted on in a Home Office consultation that came out and was completed before the Gatwick incident. I reassure noble Lords that we have of course been in touch with members of the police force around Gatwick and, indeed, all over the country to make sure they are content with the powers in the Bill. We believe that they are. We have a close relationship with them, so they have been involved since Gatwick in making sure these powers are appropriate. Of course, we still meet with the police and other stakeholders to discuss these matters in general.
Stop and search was noted by some as being in the previous Home Office consultation. Not only have we been discussing this with the police; a cross-government working group also looked at stop and search powers. It is also worth noting that the cross-government working group agreed that the focus of the powers should not only be directed towards aviation and airports but be applicable to other areas such as prisons, which should lead to greater security. Of course, the world of drones and airspace change never stops, so we will continue to review the legislation to ensure it remains fit for purpose, particularly for drones. However, we cannot delay any longer and I believe that the Bill is a good way to take this forward.
There are important elements of the product standards that came in with the EU regulations on 1 July, for which there is a three-year transition period. They are electronic conspicuity, meaning that each drone will be discoverable and identifiable, which will help as unified traffic management progresses; and geo-awareness, which is already in legislation and therefore does not need to be added to the Bill.
A number of noble Lords have talked about the important issue of aviation and the environment. It is all very well talking about quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys, but not if the latter is not the case. If we can sort out our airspace, we believe that fuel burn from aircraft will be reduced by 20%. That is already a 20% reduction in carbon. More broadly, aviation needs to play its part in the UK reaching its net-zero target. We are carefully considering the recent aviation advice from the Committee on Climate Change, and we will shortly publish for consultation our position on aviation and net zero. That builds on the work we did with the aviation strategy 2050: we consulted and gained an enormous amount of feedback on what we should be doing with our aviation sector. We will take that forward.
It is not just carbon that is important; it is also about air quality. The industry is looking at reducing airport-related emissions, given that airborne emissions account for a very small percentage point of air quality concerns.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, and my noble friend Lord Davies of Gower mentioned noise, an incredibly important and much-underappreciated element of the airspace modernisation programme. Modern aircraft can take off and land using much steeper angles of departure and arrival, so we can reduce the overall amount of noise experienced by householders. Airports are also beginning to use performance-based navigation, which means there are ways to direct planes to at least give respite to certain communities during the day. The Government take noise very seriously. We set up ICCAN at the beginning of last year to look more carefully at what we must do about airport noise and its impact on communities.
Turning to the Bill itself, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned the number of delegated powers in it. I agree with him: when I saw it, it fair took my breath away. However, I have been through each of those powers with a fine-toothed comb and I am convinced that this is the most effective way to provide these powers. I say to all noble Lords who are interested in the delegated powers that, following the Government’s report, the DPRRC did not have any issues to raise with the House after reviewing those powers. I would be very happy to set up a specific briefing: the Bill puts new schedules into other Acts—for example, the Transport Act 2000—so the entire framework is a little complicated. I am convinced that even the Henry VIII powers have a rightful place in the Bill, but I am very happy to help wherever I can.
With reference to the devolved Administrations, the section of the Bill relating to activities around prisons is a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland. My department has written to both nations and the officials are currently liaising with their counterparts regarding the next stage of the process. We will continue to work very closely with them.
Turning to airspace change, mentioned at length by my noble friends Lord Goschen and Lord Naseby, and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, this is a complicated area. I will commit here and now that I am very happy to organise a briefing on airspace in general, to provide the context required to properly understand the powers that are being asked of your Lordships’ House throughout the passage of this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked whether airspace change was nationally controlled. It is nationally mandated and nationally organised. The point about airspace change is that there are many layers, a little like an onion. Various people will be involved at various stages, but it is critical that given the change to the structure of CAP1616—the CAA’s process for airspace change—the amount of consultation and the number of stakeholders that are consulted within airspace change proposals has increased. I reassure the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, that the military is at the heart of that. We have commercial aircraft, civil aircraft, military aircraft and general aviation, and local communities also have a significant part to play in responding. When I was—for at least five minutes last year—Aviation Minister, I chaired the Airspace Strategy Board. That was always a pleasure, because it brings together at a ministerial level civil aviation, general aviation, the military, the airports and the airlines. It is a good forum for discussing airspace change and how to make it as effective as possible. I reassure noble Lords that there is an over- arching control at the top in terms of getting people’s feedback in.
I thank the Minister for her detailed explanation. In preparation for this debate, which I have not spoken in, I asked the CAA about the control of airspace. I concur with the Minister that it is complicated. However, the appeal process for an aerodrome—as the Bill puts it—that wants to appeal against the CAA’s decision, goes to the Competition and Markets Authority. I am interested to know how the Government alighted upon the CMA as the appropriate body for appeals.
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I shall have to write to her because it involves a level of detail into which I cannot go today.
I will skip over organisations such as ACOG, which has been set up by the CAA and will co-ordinate the airspace changes master plan. Again, I propose that my team produces a short two-page briefing and then we can have a verbal briefing thereafter.
My noble friend Lord Davies of Gower referred to the airspace changes and the process that the CAA uses. I have mentioned CAP1616, which was updated by the CAA in 2018 and is not due for change just yet. However, the point is that no airspace changes proposals have completed CAP1616 yet because it takes two to three years and involves seven stages and multiple consultations. It is very thorough.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, mentioned specifically that the MoD needs access to airspace to train pilots. Of course it does, to maintain the competency of the UK’s defence needs. The MoD acts as an airspace change sponsor and therefore is responsible for the airspace around its own bases.
My noble friends Lord Goschen and Lord Kirkhope both mentioned general aviation and the reclassification of airspace. The Secretary of State has directed the CAA to develop and publish a national policy for the classification of UK airspace and to keep classification under regular review. The CAA has launched a consultation to identify volumes of controlled airspace in which the classification could be amended to better reflect the needs of all airspace users. This consultation closes on 3 March and the CAA will then shortlist volumes of airspace for potential amendments. Overall, the CAA has a responsibility to minimise the amount of controlled airspace.
The cost of airspace change is also important. It can vary from a few hundred thousand pounds to up to £5 million for some of the largest airports. The Government recognise that there may be occasions when a small airport requires financial assistance to carry out some aspects of airspace change, particularly if this results in airspace change in other airports and involves reaching an agreement about how it will all fit together.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, mentioned artificial intelligence. This is not currently used in air traffic control or to fly an aircraft but it is recognised that there may be potential in artificial intelligence, particularly around aircraft safety and to reduce air traffic delays, but at the moment it is not a feature of the system.
On the third part of the Bill—“Unmanned Aircraft” —and the clause on general police powers, noble Lords will recognise that drones can be used positively. This is important and the Government are doing all they can to support the drone industry. My noble friend Lord Naseby referred to the weight limit within the drone sector and its applicability in relation to the Bill. Schedule 8—“General police powers and prison powers relating to unmanned aircraft”—does not have an upper weight limit and therefore goes above the 20 kilogram limit that usually applies to certain things, and it gives powers to a constable to ground an aircraft to stop and search, and so on. Schedule 9 gives the police powers relating specifically to the requirements in ANO 2016 and is applicable to unmanned aircraft up to 20 kilograms. The proposals relating to registration, competence and so on do not apply to unmanned aircraft of less than 250 grams.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, valiantly almost completed his speech. At the start of it he mentioned the EU Select Committee report in 2015. It is an important report and many of its recommendations have been implemented or are currently in the process of being implemented. The UK launched its registration and competency testing scheme for drones in November last year. To many people’s surprise, the number of people who have registered with the system is higher than forecast, and I am delighted that it is doing well. More than 80,000 people have registered with the system to date and more people sign up every day.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, mentioned that he will probably table amendments to tighten and extend the regulation of drones. The purpose of the Bill is to improve public safety through the police enforcement powers. That is the focus of the Bill; therefore, it is probably not the correct vehicle for further unmanned aircraft regulation, but the EU regulations are already in law and they will be developing our legislation. We will continue to consider whether the regulations in the Air Navigation Order are fit for purpose.
My noble friend Lord Naseby mentioned fixed penalty notices. I would be very happy to discuss this in more detail outside the Chamber. Our intention is that fixed penalty notices will be given only in relation to the most minor offences where certain conditions listed in the Bill are met. These include that no other aircraft was endangered and that no other person was harmed, harassed, alarmed or distressed. The first regulation that we put down will specify exactly what will be subject to a fixed penalty notice. It will be an affirmative regulation and will therefore be debated in your Lordships’ House.
A question was asked about whether stop-and-search demographics will be available for those subject to a stop and search under these powers. Yes, they will be published by the Home Office in the usual way.
Police training and guidance are critical. Guidance is being drafted at the moment with the assistance of the police. It will be given to the College of Policing as well as to individual police forces. Noble Lords will be aware that the UK Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Strategy was published in October 2019. A specific unit is being set up—the new national police counter-drones unit—which will be critical in advising police forces how and when to utilise the powers. These are the specialists mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw.
I am well aware that I am running out of time. I have committed to write, and I will. I want to finish on counter-UAV technology because it is important and something that some noble Lords might imagine would be in the Bill. The issue is that counter-UAV technology is under development. There are two types. The first is to detect, track and identify. It tries to find the drone so that the police know where it is. At the moment, systems are being tested by the CPNI and a list of approved systems is being published, but these systems are a work in progress.
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I was going to get to that, but if he does not mind I will ensure that there is a full discussion of the point he raised when I write, and it will be soon.
The second is effector technology: how do you take the drones out of the sky? That is where the destruction of property and the wireless telegraphy powers in the Bill are critical. When we have effector technology that works we will need these powers to enable the drones to be taken out of the sky to prevent them doing harm.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken the time to speak in today’s debate. I am looking forward to Committee and to being able to share more information with noble Lords shortly.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.