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UK Civil Airports Battle over Safety of RAF Northolt for Use by Civil Aircraft to go ahead

London Oxford and Biggin Hill Airports, claimants represented by John Steel QC, Duncan Sinclair and James Potts, overturned a decision of the High Court last December. refusing permission to commence judicial review of the UK Government and Civil Aviation Authority. A High Court judge (Mr Justice Charles) at an oral hearing on 2nd April 2014 gave the Claimants permission to challenge the decision of the CAA and Secretary of State for Transport in which they refused to consider imposing conditions on the use by civil commercial aviation of RAF Northolt, and whether the safety of the airport for civil commercial aircraft, operators and crew should be measured having regard to civil as opposed to solely military aerodrome standards. A declaration and mandatory order are sought against the Defendants in relation to the statutory powers and duties of the Secretaries of State and the CAA under the Civil Aviation Acts and Air Navigation Order 2009 (in particular Articles 207-210), as well as concerning the application and relevance of CAP 168, the CAA manual concerning civil aviation standards.

In 2012, about 50% of the landings and take-offs at Northolt airport were by civil aircraft, the remainder being military and diplomatic flights. In March 2013 the Secretary of State for Defence, in order to raise revenue, decided to increase significantly the use of RAF Northolt by civil commercial aircraft to over 70% of total movements. A self-imposed cap on its use by civil commercial aircraft which had been in place for many years was increased by 5,000 to a total of 12,000 movements per year. However, the Claimants' case is that Northolt Airport as a result should be reviewed by the CAA as to its suitability to be used by civil aviation and conditions should be considered to be imposed on its use. This is in particular in relation to its use by some of the larger and longer range commercial jet aircraft that land there, as it fails to meet ICAO, UK and European civil safety standards imposed by the CAA on all other UK civil airports for good reason, it is argued, including the safety of residents and others on the ground under flight paths near the airport as well as users of aircraft.

The government and CAA oppose the application. They accept that Northolt Airport does not meet civil aviation safety standards but argue that they are not relevant. Northolt, they say, accords with military standards which are sufficient. They refuse to consider the imposition by the CAA of any conditions on its use. The consequence of the Claimants being successful in their application to the Courts and forcing a review of Northolt Airport's safety by the CAA, would be to cause the CAA to send in its inspectors, who may well consider that due to a number of serious failings and non-compliances with civil aviation standards, conditions should be imposed on its use by civil commercial aircraft. These could include the reclassification and downgrading of its runway, as well as imposing conditions on its use in poor weather and low visibility (IMC) conditions. The use of civil aviation standards would bring it into line with all other civil airports and aerodromes in the UK.

Northolt Airport is located to the North-West of London, within the London Borough of Hillingdon. It has a SW-NE orientated runway, bounded to the South West by the A40 trunk road, and roads, housing and commercial development to its North-East. It is operated by the MOD (RAF) with a number of civil operations on site under contract or agreement with the MOD to manage the civil commercial aircraft operations.

The full hearing of the case in the High Court is likely to be in the autumn of 2014.

Note to editors: Thirty Nine Essex Street Chambers are noted for their expertise in Aviation and Aerospace Law and offer a full range of experience and services in this expanding and highly important field of law. A number of its Barristers specialise in this area including those involved in this case. John Steel QC is the Head of the Aviation and Aerospace Practice Area and is noted as a Leading Expert in Aviation Law in Chambers' Legal Directory.