Airport Operations

In the UK, most public transport flights must take place to and from a licensed airport. All Highlands and Islands Airports (HIA) have been licensed to operate by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in accordance with a statutory document called Air Navigation: The Order and the Regulation, usually shortened to ANO, and through processes detailed in the Civil Aviation Publication CAP 168 – Licensing of Aerodromes. These documents cover all aspects of aeronautical safety and CAA’s primary role is to oversee the activities and safety management of all airports – which include Airport Physical Characteristics, Lighting, Markings, Signage, Treatment of Obstacles and Protection of Navigation Aids, Inspection Procedures and Aeronautical Information. All these must be in place before a licence is issued and an airport can begin to operate.

Regardless of size and complexity, airports operate in a highly regulated environment, serving a wide range of customers, with sometimes conflicting needs. Sometimes their activities can and do extend well beyond their property boundaries.

Once an airport is operational, a number of factors can impact upon it’s operation. For those who are uncertain of the meaning of safeguarding – it is the control of land use, over and around the airport, against developments that could adversely affect safe operations. Put simply, it is a protective bubble around each airport. The size of the bubble is relative to the size of the airport’s runway length and its navigations facilities.

This bubble usually extends to a radius of approximately 15km from the centre of an airport’s main runway, but can extend as far as 40km. Safeguarding is included in UK legislation as an integral part of the planning procedure, and Airport Safeguarding maps are lodged with the Local Planning Authorities (LPAs). Directions contained in circulars issued under the Town and Country Planning Acts require the LPAs to check planning applications against an airport’s safeguarding map and, if necessary, to refer an application to the appropriate airport for examination and comment. The airport would then recommend that the LPA grant an application, add conditions, or reject it on safety grounds. Any proposed developments that may attract birds within 13km of an airport will also be referred for comment.

It is our experience that good liaison with the LPAs is essential.

One thing is for certain, airport safeguarding is a subject that has moved up the agenda for all airports, with many developers now seeking to harness wind power to address future energy requirements. The height and location of a wind farm, or even a single turbine, has the potential to become an obstacle within the safeguarding surfaces and interfere with electronic navigation aids (notably radar).

The whole process of checking a planned obstacle against all the obstacle limitation surfaces requires accuracy. Software is available to help. This software was conceived by the MOD then developed, over a number of years, for civil airport safeguarding.

An important part of the Operations function is advising on the safeguarding aspects of developments around all the HIAL airports. Discussions early in the planning process can help ensure that structures are designed to be clear of safeguarded planes and surfaces, identify non-viable proposals and so keep wasted resources to a minimum.

There are other aspects of safeguarding that are considered – eg lighting, birds, use of cranes, lasers, use of drones, searchlights, fireworks, balloon releases, public safety zones, building design and landscaping – particularly those which include water features.

Consideration of all these things will greatly improve the chances of the development being accepted by the LPA and the airport. This will ensure that both sides of the safeguarding process have a common understanding of its importance.

The CAA requires airports to carry out regular obstacle surveys of their safeguarded areas. These are used for a number of purposes, such as checking on Instrument Flight Procedures and production of Charts. However, they can also be used for checking on unauthorised developments, or any which have slipped through the planning process.