John Steel QC, Duncan Sinclair and James Potts appeared in this important judicial review in which Popplewell J has ruled that the Civil Aviation Authority has statutory responsibility for safety when civil aircraft use military aerodromes. The Judge rejected the CAA’s position that the Ministry of Defence and the Military Aviation Authority were solely responsible for all aircraft, whether civil or military, at government-operated aerodromes.
The ruling is hugely significant for the aviation sector. Small private aerodromes have for years argued that the MOD is unfairly competing with them and distorting the market by opening up military airbases for commercial use by private business jets whilst applying military safety standards rather than complying with stricter, costlier civil safety standards.
The team from 39 Essex Chambers acted for London Oxford and Biggin Hill Airports in the challenge to the CAA’s “limited” approach to regulation of RAF Northolt, which is well-known for its role as the main London aerodrome for Royal and diplomatic flights but is now overwhelmingly used for commercial business aviation. The CAA argued it had no duty to carry out its own assessment of civil aviation safety standards at Northolt and could not “trespass on the regulatory regime which is overseen by the MAA”.
That position has now been reversed by the High Court decision. Compliance with civil safety standards at Northolt could cost the MOD in excess of £20 million.
Meanwhile the European Commission has commenced a preliminary State Aid investigation into RAF Northolt (following a complaint submitted on behalf of the claimants by counsel at 39 Essex Chambers), which it has joined with another ongoing investigation raising similar issues at another EU aerodrome. If the Commission finds breaches of EU State Aid legislation it could require the recovery of undercharges from commercial operators over the last 10 years.
Press coverage can be found here:
The full judgment can be read here.