An introduction to air

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Aviation is an industry that operates essentially without subsidy, and all key players are either in the private sector or operate commercially. The Department's role is therefore to develop policies and long-term strategies; to facilitate their implementation; and to lead international negotiations in the aviation sector.

To do this the Department works with a number of different individuals and organisations including airlines, airports, regulators, other government departments, international governments, trade associations, embassies and consumer representatives.

The industry is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), an independent body with responsibility for economic, safety and consumer protection regulation, and airspace policy. In addition, the CAA advises the Government on aviation issues, represents consumer interests, conducts economic and scientific research and produces statistical data.

In December 2003, the Government set out a sustainable long-term strategy for the development of air travel in the UK. The Future of Air Transport White Paper balanced the growing aspirations of individual to travel and the economic benefits that air travel brings with the need to protect the environment.

Three years later the Government published a progress report to reaffirm its commitment to the strategy set out in the White Paper. The strategy sets out the importance of responding to the environmental challenges of aviation. It also supports the development of regional airports mostly within existing capacity as well as the construction of further runways at Stansted and Heathrow, and measure to make better use of existing runways at those airports. At Heathrow, where the shortage of runway and terminal capacity is most acute, the Government is continuing its assessments of whether further expansion can meet strict noise and air quality limits. A consultaion on this issue is planned for 2007.

Aviation's international nature means that there are few areas, apart from airport development, in which the UK is free - or can effectively - make policy in isolation from other countries. Most new aviation legislation now originates at the European Union (EU) level; and in the air traffic management field, through EUROCONTROL, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation. On wider European issues we co-operate closely with the 40 other countries in the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC). Globally, we co-operate with the 188 signatories to the Chicago Convention, working through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Air services to non-EU countries are subject to a complex web of bilateral treaties known as Air Services Agreements (ASAs). The Department is responsible for managing existing ASAs and negotiating new ones. ASAs restrict the number and type of services that can be operated. The UK generally seeks to open up and liberalise these agreements so as to enable airlines to operate competitively. The EU is taking an increasing role in this area.

Air traffic management services in the UK are mainly provided by National Air Traffic Services (NATS), a public-private partnership regulated by the CAA. The Government is one of two principal shareholders; but the other - the Airline Group, a group of the seven main UK airlines - is the controlling shareholder.