Air passenger or freight services in the UK: regulations for operators

Regulations for domestic aviation in the UK, permits for non-EU registered aircraft, and the roles of the regulatory bodies CAA, DfT and EASA.

Most parts of the UK’s aviation industry are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). If your business operates within this sector in the UK, you’ll need to meet the economic, safety and consumer protection regulations enforced by the CAA. These can apply to a wide range of businesses - from ballooning clubs and private aerodromes to tour operators and airlines.

Any operator who intends to use aircraft registered outside of the EU for commercial transport activities in the UK must apply for a permit from the Department for Transport (DfT). The DfT also regulates the aviation security sector through its Aviation directorate (Aviation Security Division).

This guide is aimed at potential entrants to the air freight or air passenger sectors in the UK. It briefly explains the regulatory framework for the domestic aviation sector, and the roles of the principal regulatory bodies.

It will point you towards information on the CAA website to help you get started, and explains the procedure for applying to the DfT for an operating authorisation permit for non-EU registered aircraft.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s regulatory role

The CAA is responsible for regulating most of the aviation sector in the UK, including airlines, airports and national air traffic services. The CAA works independently from government.

If your business activities involve aviation, it’s likely that your business, any aircraft you operate, and some or all of your staff will need to be licensed by the CAA and follow certain standards and regulations.

The CAA is responsible for four main areas:

  • air safety
  • economic regulation
  • airspace regulation
  • consumer protection

In some areas of aviation, the CAA is the UK’s primary regulator. In others - such as the type certification of aircraft and components - the responsibility for regulation has passed to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and the CAA is responsible for implementing the regulations in the UK.

What the CAA regulates

The CAA’s main activities include:

  • issuing licences for aircraft, flight crew and aircraft maintenance engineers
  • setting medical fitness standards for aviation personnel who are critical to aviation safety, eg pilots
  • licensing of aerodromes and other aviation facilities
  • maintaining the UK register of civil aircraft and its online database, G-INFO
  • conducting air accident investigations
  • making sure that aircraft are airworthy
  • regulating aviation-related engineering functions
  • issuing air operator’s certificates, operating licences and route licences
  • managing the Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (ATOL) financial protection scheme - all holiday companies selling air holiday packages and flights in the UK must by law hold a licence

To find out how the CAA’s regulatory activities affect your business, you can read about safety, economic and consumer protection regulations on the CAA website.

Foreign registered aircraft permits and other air transport functions regulated by the DfT

The DfT has direct responsibility for some regulatory areas in the aviation sector. These include:

  • issuing and withdrawing airline permits to operators from outside the EU, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland who wish to pick up or put down passengers or cargo in the UK
  • environmental standards, including controls on aeroplane noise levels set out in UK legislation and night noise quotas at airports
  • aviation security, through its Aviation directorate (Aviation Security Division)

Permits for non-EU registered aircraft

Aircraft operators will need to apply to the DfT for a permit if they intend to use cargo or passenger-carrying aircraft registered outside the EU for commercial operations in the UK.

Permits are required for scheduled and non-scheduled passenger, cargo and combi services where these services are operated for valuable consideration, ie any kind of payment or reward.

You can find out how to apply for a permit to operate non-EU registered aircraft here.

Airline permits

Any airline from outside the EU, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland that wishes to pick up or put down passengers or cargo in the UK needs a permit from the DfT. Among the main conditions for being awarded a permit is that the airline must at least meet the minimum international safety standards laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

The DfT can refuse an application for a permit or revoke, suspend or vary the terms of an existing one, if it is not satisfied that these standards are being met. This could happen where there has been a breach of a permit condition, including non-compliance with international safety standards.

This action may be taken after the aircraft has been inspected by the CAA. Permit decisions are reviewed if new information comes to light, or if the airline’s circumstances change.

Aviation security

DfT’s Aviation Directorate (Aviation Security Division) works to ensure that every person and any item being placed on public service aircraft is subject to security screening on entry to the secure zone of the airport.

You can read more about aviation security in the Policies section of this website.

Other bodies that regulate the aviation sector in the EU

If your business is involved in transporting passengers or goods by air, you may be affected by safety regulations from the EASA.

The EASA is an agency within the EU. It is responsible for the airworthiness and environmental certification of all aeronautical products, parts, and appliances that have been designed, manufactured, maintained or used by any individual or organisation under the regulatory oversight of an EU member state.

Among the EASA’s responsibilities are:

  • implementing and monitoring safety rules, including inspections in EU member states
  • type certification of aircraft and components
  • issuing approvals to organisations involved in the design, manufacture and maintenance of aeronautical products
  • granting authorisations to aircraft operators from non-EU countries to operate within the EU

Some aviation safety regulations that were previously enforced by the CAA in the UK have now been taken over by the EASA. You can find out more about how the EASA regulates aviation safety in EU member states on the EASA website.

Moving dangerous goods by air

Businesses that need to transport dangerous goods by air must follow the technical instructions issued by the ICAO.

Find out about transporting dangerous goods by air on the IATA website.

You can also read information on the air transport of dangerous goods on the CAA website.

For general information about the carriage of dangerous goods by various modes of transport, see the guides on moving dangerous goods and understand different classifications of dangerous goods.

Further information

CAA Enquiry Team

01293 573 725

IATA Dangerous Goods Hotline

+1 514 390 6770

Published 5 October 2012