Draft Air Navigation (Environmental Standards) Order 2002

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Tom Brake: I thank the Minister for his introductory explanation of the order and echo the concerns that were expressed about the important regulatory impact assessment, which was unavailable for consideration with the order.

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The Minister will be pleased to hear that I have only a few additional questions. We must be able to measure the effectiveness of the order compared with those that it is replacing, and we can do that only by monitoring some of the standards that are set out. I hope that the Minister, if not now then later, will tell the Committee how many noise certificates have been checked. Are they checked as a matter of routine or only on an ad hoc basis? Are figures available on what sort of checks are carried out on the air certificates of different categories of aircraft? For example, the microlights seem to be the equivalent of the motor bike, of which someone either punctures the exhaust or takes it off so that it makes more noise or goes faster. They may require more testing, as they are more DIY in their approach than larger aircraft, and it would be interesting to know whether their noise certificates are focused on.

Does the Minister have any figures on the number of checks that are carried out on noise readings? Are they ever conducted? It is useful to identify standards, but if no one takes readings, we do not know whether those standards are effective. How many fines have been levied in the past 12 months for noise pollution? Can the Minister tell us how many aircraft have been prevented from flying under the existing standards?

The hon. Member for Cotswold asked about the fact that military aircraft have been excluded, and I want to know whether any consideration has been given to including military aircraft in the order when they are on non-combat or non-training missions. Many communities throughout the country certainly feel the pressure. Those are my only questions to the Minister and I look forward to hearing his response either now or shortly.

10.29 am

Mr. Osborne: I have one constituency-related question. What account does the order take of the Government's commitments under the World Health Organisation charter on transport, the environment and health? The Government—including the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) before she attained her present Cabinet position and other Ministers—signed that document, which committed the signatories to community noise guidelines. One such guideline was that night time noise levels, such as a plane flying over a house, should not exceed 60 decibels.

The Government have made it clear that they are committed to the charter. Elizabeth Duthie, a member of the Department's aviation and environmental division, wrote to airport campaigners in Gatwick stating that the Government's signing of the charter was a political commitment. I tabled a written question a while ago—unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to bring it with me today—and the answer made it clear that the Government regard themselves as bound to the charter.

The Minister will know that the 60 decibel limit is far below the noise that my constituents regularly suffer. The fixed noise monitor in Manchester airport

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regularly records an average night noise of 78 decibels—18 decibels higher than in the WHO charter. The latest noise information from Manchester airport shows that some planes reached the limit of 87 decibels—27 points higher. Last summer Pakistan Airlines breached that limit three times, Scandinavian Airlines twice and some freight company airlines also breached it. I must ask the Minister then, what is the status of the WHO charter? Either Ministers sign international documents and agreements that are binding and mean something, or they simply express warm words that mean nothing.

Here is a statutory instrument coming before the House. Is it not a good opportunity for the Government to put into UK law their commitments under the WHO charter? I have looked through the order, but I can find no provision that would do so. What does the Minister have to say about that?

10.32 am

Mr. Jamieson: I am pleased to respond to the points raised by three Opposition Members. First, I am glad that the hon. Member for Cotswold recognises that higher standards are needed. I am grateful for his support and recognition of the importance of that matter. He is right that the airline industry has gone through a difficult period, even before the events of 11 September. I hope that he agrees that the UK Government have acted in many ways to assist the industry and set a standard throughout the world. That certainly applies to insurance and compensation measures, on which we have worked together with our European partners to ensure that we are not disadvantaged.

The hon. Gentleman quite properly asked whether some of the measures introduced by the order would put our industry at a competitive disadvantage. I can tell him that the contrary is the case. A good example is compliance procedures for smaller helicopters. One criticism of the compliance regulations was that they were too burdensome for the manufacturers of small helicopters. We therefore changed, without reducing standards, the way in which compliance is demonstrated. The new type of testing makes it much easier for the manufacturers of smaller helicopters. It may cost them a tenth of the amount they had to pay previously for the certification.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman did an O-level in mathematics; he would probably need more than that. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) is smiling. I think that he did GCSEs, as he is slightly younger than most of us. I am surprised by the hon. Member for Cotswold, because he seemed a cerebral and thoughtful member of the Committee. He referred to the formula in schedule 3 but did not read it out correctly. However, I shall not correct his mathematics on this occasion. [Hon. Members: ''Go on.''] Oh, all right then.

Let me explain what the formula means. Its definition is

    The sound exposure level LAE is defined as the level, in decibels, of the time integral of squared 'A'-weighted sound pressure (PA) over a given time period or event, with reference to the square of the standard reference sound pressure (P0) of 20 micropascals (P) and a reference duration of one second.

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The Chairman: I am glad that the Minister has had an opportunity to lift the veil on the matter.

Mr. Jamieson: I am glad that my explanation has provided clarity for you, Mr. Olner. I am sure that my hon. Friends totally understand the formula and had a precise and intimate knowledge of it before they came to the Committee today.

I have some good news for the hon. Member for Cotswold. Just as one does not have to know all the formulae involved in the manufacturing and systems management of a car to drive it, the operators of the machines used for testing noise do not have to know the formula, because the machines are calibrated. The Government included the wonderful mathematical formula in the schedule for extra clarity. Those who are of such a disposition may untangle it. Of course, as a mathematics teacher for many years, I am totally familiar with it. If the hon. Gentleman needs further explanation, I should be delighted to help him.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: No doubt the Minister will give the Committee a fully worked numerical example in a moment. On a much simpler level, can he tell us whether the formula will enable aircraft to comply with the WHO convention mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton?

Mr. Jamieson: I shall deal later with the point made by the hon. Member for Tatton but, in all seriousness, I am told that the machines are calibrated and that knowledge of the formula is not required. We have to know that the standards are being met—they are. The machines ingeniously make the technical calculations, so we do not have to stretch ourselves too far in the discussion, which has been an interesting diversion from our debate this morning.

The hon. Member for Cotswold said that he would move on. I wondered whether he was about to move out, as he suddenly ran across the Floor. I thought that he was chasing a mouse. However, he asked several useful questions. He asked about the compliance costs for aircraft operators. Generally, they are small. Much of what is in the order consolidates existing regulations, many of which are already being met. We have simplified orders and brought them together. For example, the order continues existing regulations for supersonic aeroplanes, which do not apply to Concorde. It continues existing fuel venting, smoke emission and unburned hydrocarbons regulations. For microlight aeroplanes and helicopters, the order introduces new standards such as the carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen emission standards brought in by ICAO. I hope that that information about the order is helpful.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the new standards for smaller helicopters, which were generally welcomed. The consultation showed that the industry welcomed the new standards for microlights. The compliance cost is at most £500 for a non-compliant aircraft, but the industry welcomes it because it wants to improve its image.

As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) said, these small aircraft are the motorbikes of the sky; large aircraft make a lot of

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noise for a short time, and small aircraft make a penetrating noise for long periods.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Powered gliders, which make a similar noise to microlights, are a problem in my constituency, but they are not mentioned in the order. Does it cover them?

Mr. Jamieson: No, the order does not cover powered gliders, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman on the matter, if he wants me to do so. He asked about enforcement abroad. Each of the 187 countries that joined ICAO has its own enforcement authority, which is the equivalent of the CAA. That is how enforcement is carried out abroad.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Isle of Man. If its aircraft come to the United Kingdom mainland, they must abide by the standards of this country and can be inspected. He asked about the disadvantage to UK operators. The point of an agreement within ICAO is that countries have similar standards and thus are not disadvantaged by competing with those that have lower standards. The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that in many respects, that is precisely what has been done within the European Union. That is why we operate within ICAO; standards generally are high, and enforced across the member countries.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the penalties that can be imposed for non-compliance. He said that the pilots may not speak English, but English is the standard language for aircraft personnel, who cannot fly if they do not speak or understand English. The hon. Gentleman's example would be worrying, and a matter that the authorities would have to take into consideration. The most serious penalty is that flights could be prevented from taking off.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the phrase ''punished accordingly''. I owned up to a modest facility in mathematics, but I do not have such a facility in the law. However, I shall ensure that the matter is clarified.

Although the orders do not apply to military aircraft, they co-operate when possible. As the hon. Gentleman knows from his experience in the RAF, it is very sensitive to the needs of the civilian population, and tries to comply with the noise regulations and to minimise the effect of its operations.

On whether there is a role for the National Air Traffic Services, the answer is no; enforcement is solely a matter for the CAA. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there was full and sound consultation on the subject, the vast majority of which was positive.

I have already answered one of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, who described the noise from microlights. He asked about checking procedures, fines and so on, and about enforcement and prosecutions. He also asked how many aircraft have been prevented from landing. I do not have the figures to hand, but I shall endeavour to find them and let him know.

I responded to his point about military aircraft—

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