UK CAA Mulls London Northolt Clampdown

 - January 26, 2015, 4:24 PM

A British High Court judge ruled that the UK CAA “has the power to impose conditions” on RAF Northolt Airport, near London, where it does not comply with civil standards, despite a growing number of lucrative commercial movements. The ruling could mean the CAA has little choice but to invoke a wide-ranging audit and that Northolt could face a cut in civil operations while it makes expensive improvements.

The judicial review was set in motion through an application by London Biggin Hill and London Oxford Airports, resulting in a hearing in November, and handing down of judgment on January 23. The trigger for the action was the 2012 decision by the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) to raise the civil movement cap to 12,000 per year from 7,000, while still not having to comply with stringent conditions imposed on civil airports.

The two airports bringing the action said in a joint statement, “RAF Northolt became a competitor without incurring the higher costs of complying with civilian safety standards.”

Will Curtis, managing director of London Biggin Hill, told AIN that it had estimated the traffic taken away from Biggin Hill could be costing it as much as £4 million ($6 million) a year, basing its assertion on a period when Northolt was closed and Biggin Hill saw more activity. He estimated that some 85 percent of movements at Northolt are now civilian, even those taking royalty and politicians (Northolt is best known as the home of the British Royal Flight, though many such flights now use a purpose-built terminal at London Heathrow).

London Oxford and London Biggin Hill have also lodged a State Aid complaint with the EU Competition Commission, complaining that the MOD has been unfairly competing with the private sector. The airports suggested that should they win, “the compensation bill could run to many tens of millions [of pounds].”