Aircraft Noise

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Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): Do any airports in the UK intend to introduce noise charging?

Mr. Jamieson: My understanding is that that is already built into the charging formula that some of them use. Indeed, I believe that the major London airports already use charging. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are not too happy about the second directive; we have several reservations and want changes to be made to it.

Lawrie Quinn: My hon. Friend will be aware that the view in the industry and among aviation engineers is that the problems addressed by the documents have more to do with annoyance to neighbours and the general operation of airports. Have my hon. Friend and EU officials considered the health and safety aspects of aircraft noise as it affects not only ground crew but all those who work in airports, as well as the communities that live in close proximity to them?

Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Although the directives do not deal with those matters, they arise from general concerns about how to reduce noise at airports. He will know that, regardless of the directives, we are concerned about the effect on people of noise in the workplace. That is, of course, a matter for the relevant health and safety legislation.

Many airports have regular discussions with stakeholders such as local councils and local residents, and several such discussions are currently under way, with those involved trying to strike

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voluntary agreements to reduce the annoyance and noise generated by certain airports. It is no secret that discussions to strike a strong voluntary agreement are under way at East Midlands airport, and many other airports already have such agreements. Special studies are being carried out—for example, into the possible effects of noise on schoolchildren. It is important that we examine such studies, although I am not aware that they have produced any evidence that would cause us concern.

My hon. Friend is right to raise those issues. The directives take account of the general concern, and when they are implemented their impact on some of the issues will be considered. We need the flexibility that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) mentioned, because we must find local solutions to local problems—there is no blanket solution to all the problems.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Cran. I, too, apologise for arriving a couple of seconds after the Minister started his opening statement.

Did UK representatives make representations about using the proposals as a means to place a ceiling on noise? Would the Government support such a move?

Mr. Jamieson: In theory, the directive could be used in that way; it is very flexible. It would be up to one of the 10 UK airports that are affected, each of which would have an environmental objective. The hon. Gentleman asks about airport noise ceilings. Such a ceiling might apply to the maximum noise from one aircraft at any one moment, as the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) suggested, or to the profile of noise throughout the day. It is possible that an airport, in meeting its environmental objectives, would use such a measure as one of a variety of tools. It could also use air traffic control, or focus on the way in which the aircraft are brought in and out of the airport, or on the times of day at which flights take place. A raft of measures could be used, not only one tool. What is important is that the directive makes a common methodology available to airports throughout the European Union, gives airlines more knowledge, and encourages transparency of decision making.

Dr. Vis: The documents are all about noise and the protection of people who live close to airports and are affected by it. Might they also be about aircraft technology and whether such information from Europe can affect the replacement of old, noisy aircraft, which might prove to be a boost to aircraft manufacturers? I know that that is an unkind question. If my hon. Friend prefers to write to me, I shall agree to that.

Mr. Jamieson: I am not tempted to write to my hon. Friend, but I might express a view in the privacy of the Committee. Some older, noisy aircraft have been phased out because noise standards have gradually been raised—to the benefit of all the countries of Europe, including the UK. The technology is evolving

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in part because of the pressure that we put on aircraft manufacturers to improve their noise standards. The introduction of directives and the imposition of target dates for noise reduction might result in new aircraft having to be built, but my sole consideration is the benefits for the people of Europe.

Mr. Moss: Does the Minister believe that people campaigning against noise pollution, such as those concerned about Heathrow airport, will have their case strengthened or weakened by the directives?

Mr. Jamieson: I think that they will have their case somewhat changed. A balanced approach allows for many ways of considering noise. If I were a local campaigner, I would see that circumstances had changed but that the ability of local people to be involved in the process was not reduced. The methodology states that local consultation is important and must take place; the change in the way in which it takes place will not change its effect.

Lawrie Quinn: My hon. Friend will be aware that some people—not least Government Members—expect the Government to start thinking about a strategy on aviation policy covering the next decade or so. If such consideration is taking place in the Department, will the EU proposals fundamentally affect any policy that we might instinctively have adopted as a single nation, rather than as part of the EU?

Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friend will be aware that we will soon put out to consultation the regional studies for our airports. The results will emerge some time in spring; they will inform the White Paper, which is to be published before the end of the year. The directive might not change our thinking, but it will influence the contents of the White Paper.

Mr. Hoban: Will the Minister expand on the comments made in the explanatory memorandum on noise charging? I understand that the ICAO has in place standards and rules relating to classification of aircraft noise. Given that all European Union members subscribe to those rules, why does the EU feel it necessary to introduce a directive on the subject?

Mr. Jamieson: The directive does not introduce a Europe-wide charge but gives a methodology for calculating the charge. The hon. Gentleman will know from the explanatory memorandum that we have many reservations about the directive, and I hope that he will support us in seeking changes.

Mr. Viggers: So far, we have discussed fixed-wing aircraft, but helicopters pose their own special problems, in part because the rotary wing breaks the sound barrier at its tip and makes an exceptionally annoying noise as it does so. The nature of helicopters is such that they can be landed much closer to occupied premises. Will the Minister explain the position regarding helicopters?

Mr. Jamieson: The hon. Gentleman may not have served on a previous Committee, which was also attended by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), in which we discussed a statutory instrument relating to noise made by helicopters in construction and in use at airports. If

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an airport uses the directives to inform its environmental objectives, the total profile of noise from all subsonic aircraft will be taken into consideration. Meanwhile, the environmental standards order provides more stringent requirements, especially for light helicopters.

The Chairman: There being no further questions, we may now move to debate the motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That the Committee takes note of European Union document No. 15014/01, draft Directive on the introduction of noise-related operating restrictions at Community Airports and No. 5119/02, draft Directive on the establishment of a Community framework for noise classification of civil subsonic aircraft for the purposes of calculating noise charges; and supports the Government position to ensure that the proposed Directives allow the development of a coherent and balanced approach to managing noise nuisances at UK airports consistent with existing ICAO rules and standards.

4.57 pm

Mr. Moss: I shall be extremely brief. We welcome the directives in that they represent a climbdown from the stringent proposals made some time ago. The events of 11 September have some bearing, as many operating aircraft companies are struggling mightily to stay in business after the massive fall-off in the number of people travelling by air. The possibility of being burdened with the additional costs of upgrading their aircraft to meet stringent requirements on noise must have caused them concern. We welcome the fact that common sense has prevailed.

Under the new proposals, the onus of responsibility is thrown on to individual airports and communities. The Minister gave a pretty clever response to my question about local campaigners, but he did not answer it. I suspect that those who have campaigned against aircraft noise for many years because it impinges on their lives will find that the directives do not help them to press their case for fundamental change to alleviate the problem and give them a better quality of life. The directives say that there will local representation, input and consultation—wonderful words, but where is the power to change things? It is not present. Even Members of Parliament for constituencies where people are constantly lobbying about aircraft noise will have no more influence than before. Nothing in the proposals helps us to make a case on behalf of those who are affected by noise.

The review is balanced, covering on the one hand the interests of those whose lifestyles are affected, and on the other our desire to keep as many companies as possible flying, not only for the sake of competition but because thousands of jobs at many levels around the world are at stake. On balance we welcome the European Union's change of heart about the directives. We would like to think—no doubt, the Minister will confirm this—that he or his colleagues had a massive influence on the outcome.

5 pm

 
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