UK CAA chose the most expensive registration database operator

Excellent work as ever from Ian Hudson, gardening and anamorphic lens aficionado.

Another FOIA request to the Civil Aviation Authority in England. The much-touted drone and model aircraft registration scheme goes live today and we know the CAA spent £4.1 million pounds (5.2 USD) to set it up, with a projected annual running cost of £2.8 million pounds.

The lowest bid to run the service was just £753,812

Ian had this to say on the matter,

“As the drone and model aircraft community are picking up the cost of a system few of us want and where it was built without proper engagement the least we deserve is more transparency. When we know the Post Office has run registration systems for £100,000s to be paying millions for a database which is a minimum viable product seems ludicrous. I can only imagine a huge profit is being made and those fortunate enough to have the contract must be having a lavish Christmas party.”

Top work Ian!

Additional reading, Gareth Corfield in The Register has an excellent background piece on the database.

Dear Mr Hudson

I have concluded my review of your appeal to the CAA’s reply to your original request for information of 11 July 2019. I apologise that my response has taken longer than anticipated which is due to the work undertaken by the CAA to repatriate Thomas Cook customers.

My review concentrates on the withheld information rather than your whole request. In particular, our response to your requests contained in 1, 3 and 5.

Requests 1 and 5

In respect of your requests 1 and 5, copied below, we said that disclosure of the proposal document would be likely to prejudice the CAA’s commercial interests and withheld the information under Section 43(2) of the FOIA which states that disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person.

1) Can the full requirements be provided which parties bid for, to provide the service? It’s been suggested that £1 million of the cost was to interface UTM, to clarify if such rumours are true or false could you detail if the companies bidding were purely operating a licencing database or if that cost involved developing other functionality in addition to providing a licensing database alone.

5) It has been said the DfT paid for the development of the system, could you clarify the cost of developing the actual system as well as the ongoing cost requested above?

Having discussed this further with our procurement team, I am satisfied that our response was correct for the reasons explained.

You may be aware that the registration is delayed. This means that the harm to our negotiating position remains in place and will exist for a while given that there are ongoing discussions about additional features and support services. However, you may wish to contact the DfT, who is also subject to FOI, in respect of your request in 5.

Request 3

In respect of your request in 3, copied below, we said that disclosure of this information would be likely to prejudice the CAA’s negotiating position in entering into future contracts and was exempt from disclosure under Section 43(2) of the FOIA for the reasons set out.

3) What was the lowest and highest cost of the bids?

It is my view that this information can be provided and can advise you that the costs provided were estimates for each phase of delivery (discovery, alpha and beta). As a price range, the total cost for all 3 phases started from £753,812 to £4,152,483.

My conclusion

I conclude that the information requested would not have been made available to you at the time of your request for the reasons explained. However, I have partially overturned our response and provided information in respect of your request in 3.

Rights of Appeal

Finally, I should advise you that, under the FOIA, you have further rights of appeal to the ICO. Should you have any reason to complain about any aspects of the processing of your request and of your subsequent appeal, you should contact the ICO at:

The Information Commissioner’s Office
FOI/EIR Complaints Resolution
Wycliffe House
Water Kane

Should you wish to make further requests, please use the e-form at

Yours sincerely

Caroline Chalk
Head of External Information Services