Safeguarding and Public Safety Zones at UK airports. Are current procedures fit for purpose?

To protect their future operations, UK airports and airfields need to ensure that any proposed buildings or other nearby development, such as wind turbines, do not infringe on the safety of their operations.

Similarly Public Safety Zones are designed to ensure that those living or working near airports are exposed to an acceptable level of safety risk of an aircraft accident. But are the current procedures meeting these objectives and are they being adhered to by all stakeholders ?

UK legislation provides for a number of measures to safeguard airports and airfields, either on an official or unofficial basis. But despite this, many local authorities and some airfields are not fully aware of or disregard Government guidance in this area, which potentially threaten the safety of aviation operations when such developments are proposed within the UK planning system.

There are two types of aerodrome safeguarding – official safeguarding, which applies to some 28 of the UK’s 82 airports and airfields holding a CAA or EASA licence and unofficial safeguarding, which is based on an agreed safeguarding procedures between the aerodrome licence holder and the relevant local planning authority. In both cases, aerodromes should submit a safeguarding map to the local planning authority showing the protected areas around the airport which need to be free of such development including the obstacle clearance surfaces and other protected areas to ensure the integrity of navigational aids and communications equipment. Further constraints apply in relation to the maximum heights of other proposed buildings or wind turbines close to the aerodrome.

If a proposed development breaches these protected areas, the aerodrome licence holder must be contacted by the local authority and should be a consulted under the planning process. In the case of those aerodromes covered under official safeguarding, the safeguarding map must be certified by the CAA. Furthermore, the Government advises that these maps and the safeguarding policy are shown in the local development framework and other strategic planning documents. If the local authority is minded to grant planning consent to a development to which an officially safeguarded aerodrome has objected, the CAA must be consulted. In the case of unofficial safeguarding, there is no direct involvement of the CAA, although the Government recommends that the CAA is consulted about any proposed development with a height in excess of 90m in the vicinity of the airport or airfield.

The obstacle clearance surfaces around CAA and EASA licensed aerodromes are defined within CAP 168 ‘Licensing of Aerodromes’ or within the relevant EASA certification specifications, which are based on those in ICAO Annex 14. Guidance for the obstacle clearance requirements at unlicensed airports and airfields is given in CAP 793 ‘Safe Operating Practices at Unlicensed Aerodromes’. In such cases, the safeguarding requirements are less stringent although some unlicensed aerodromes adopt the criteria in CAP 168 or its EASA equivalent. In addition to the constraints on building development, the safeguarding policy agreed with local planning authority can require mandatory consultation on other proposed activities near the airfield including the siting of cranes, shooting, kite flying etc. Any planning application which might lead to increased bird activity near the airport should also be referred to the licence holder, including those involving rubbish tips, lakes and landscaping.

The typical format for an airport safeguarding map is shown in the example below:

Belfast City Airport – Safeguarding Map

In addition to the safeguarding criteria, those UK airports with more than 1,500 air transport movements (ATMs) per month should establish Public Safety Zones (PSZs) at all runway ends. This Public Safety Zones should be prepared by the airport operator based on the statistical risk of an individual living or working within the area dying as a result of an aircraft accident. Under current Department for Transport (DfT) legislation, PSZs for 1 in 100,000 and 1 in 10,000 annual risk contours should be prepared every seven years and lodged with the local planning authority. Except in certain specific cases, there should be a presumption of no new or replacement residential development within the 1 in 100,000 annual risk contour although certain types of commercial development such as warehousing, with relatively few employees on site are deemed to be acceptable, The 1 in 10,000 annual risk contour should be free of all residential and commercial property and, if this is not the case, the airport operator is expected to make a compulsory purchase order to acquire and demolish these properties. There are some exceptions to this requirement, including land used for long-stay car parking, buildings housing machinery etc without any associated permanent employees and golf course (but not clubhouses). The precise definition of a PSZ requires detailed modelling based on the expected movement levels and accident data for the types of aircraft flown. A typical example, showing the 1 in 10,000 contour (in blue) and the 1 in 100,000 contour (in red) is shown below:

Farnborough Airport – Public Safety Zones

PSZs are in place at many of the busier airports in the US and continental Europe – although other countries adopt different approaches in terms of their design and their size based on their own definitions of the acceptable level of risk. The UK model was developed by NATS in the 1990s and is based on straight in and straight out approach and take-off paths. Other models, such as that developed by the Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) take account of curved approaches and turns on take-off. Significant forecasted traffic growth at an airport, such as that projected at London City Airport in its masterplan for 2020-2035 or at the proposed new cargo airport at Manston in Kent can result in a substantial increase in the size of the PSZ, with major impacts for local residents and businesses.

A study by Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners suggests that whilst all the UK’s 82 licenced aerodromes should adopt safeguarding measures, only 19 of the 28 local authorities responsible for officially safeguarded airports have incorporated these safeguarding policies in their local plans. A further 13 local authorities have adopted voluntary safeguarding policies in their local plans. This indicates that over a half (42) of the UK’s licenced airports have no local plan safeguarding in place. A recent case involving the planning decision to build a new IKEA store and 600 homes near Brighton City (Shoreham) Airport had little technical input on the aerodrome safeguarding issues.

The Government acknowledges that there are still a number of shortcomings in the aerodrome safeguarding procedures as indicated in the Department for Transport’s Aviation Strategy consultation report published in December last year, although it does not recommend mandatory official safeguarding . In the case of Public Safety Zones. Eurocontrol recently carried out a study to assess how its environmental risk model, IMPACT, could be extended to define airport PSZs on a pan-European basis. Whilst the shortcomings are now recognised, it remains to be seen as to how these procedures might be improved in the interests of all stakeholders.

Alan Stratford and Associates provide a range of services relating to aerodrome safeguarding.


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BGL CommunicationsSafeguarding and Public Safety Zones at UK airports. Are current procedures fit for purpose?