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Large scale incidents involving aircraft are rare. Such incidents place significant demands on local fire and rescue services and often require resources and support from other fire and rescue services and emergency responders.

This guidance aims to provide a consistent approach between fire and rescue services, other emergency responders, the aviation industry and other groups when operating or attending an air transport incidents and identifying the hazards found within this environment.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has a statutory duty, imposed by the Secretary of State for Transport, to enforce safety standards at licensed aerodromes and is also designated a competent authority for the regulation of safety standards at European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certificated aerodromes within the UK.

An aerodrome is an area where aircraft take off and land, including associated buildings, or where aircraft are stored and maintained. The term airport, heliport and airstrip may also be used to refer to aerodromes. In this guidance the principal term used is aerodrome.

Fire and rescue services should identify the number, type and size of operating military and civil aerodromes (licensed and unlicensed) within their area. This will form part of the fire and rescue service risk management plan and planning will need to be proportionate to the risk identified.

Aerodromes are allocated a rescue and firefighting services category according to the dimensions of the largest aircraft operating at the site. The rescue and firefighting services category will determine the level of rescue and firefighting resources available, Category 10 being the highest category (at aerodromes like Heathrow and Manchester), down to Category 1, which are small aerodromes with limited firefighting provision.

Aerodromes have some flexibility within the regulations depending on the type of operation and the frequency of aircraft movements. The categorisation of aerodromes means that fire and rescue services need to understand the level of rescue and firefighting services provision. This provision may differ depending on the time of day, and the fire and rescue service will need to consider this variation as part of its planning process, procedures and safe systems of work.

There is a requirement for licensed aerodromes to develop an emergency response plan, which must be co-ordinated with local emergency management arrangements. The emergency response plan will be set out in the aerodrome manual and will contain emergency orders, which clearly define roles and responsibilities.

The term aircraft is used to describe all types of flying machines

  • Fixed-wing
  • Rotary-wing (including helicopters, autogyro, etc.)
  • Hot air balloons
  • Airships
  • Gliders
  • Unmanned aircraft
  • Microlights

The list above covers both civil and military aircraft. Other agencies may use other more specific definitions for their own requirements, but the definitions above are deemed the most appropriate ones for fire and rescue services to base their risk assessments and planning assumptions on.

Classification of aircraft emergencies differ between those used by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and those used by the military authorities.

Fire and rescue services should be aware of the different airports within their area, or neighbouring areas, which might have differing aircraft incident categories that may have an impact on mobilising and predetermined attendance.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) publication CAP 168 requires that the area adjacent to an airport be assessed, special procedures be developed and specialist equipment be made available. This assessment should be carried out as part of local emergency planning arrangements and the response to incidents adjacent to airports should be set out in the airport emergency orders.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) is part of the Department for Transport and is responsible for investigating civil aircraft accidents and serious incidents within the UK. It focuses its investigation on determining the cause of an air accident or serious incident and then makes recommendations intended to prevent a reoccurrence. It does not apportion blame or liability.

The Ministry of Defence is responsible for investigating accidents involving military aircraft through the Defence Accident Investigation Branch (DAIB), although in certain circumstances the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) may also investigate accidents involving military aircraft.

For further information refer to Operational Guidance Aircraft incidents 2011 (Dept. of Communities and Local Government) which forms the foundation for this air section.