Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Norton: My Lords, I would like to put the record straight. I am not an international playboy.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to hear that my previous friend, the noble Lord, Lord Norton, is not an international playboy. I would have been extremely disappointed if he thought that he was. As I said, if the Labour Party is the party of business, it will realise the real economic value to be attached to the time of a chief executive of a major international company based in the United Kingdom.

These are important matters for the integrated transport review, which I am sure the Minister will tell us will be much more than a re-statement of the desirability of public and, in particular, rail transport. It is surprising to me that light aircraft are really quite economic in terms of cost per mile. Can the Minister assure the House that when the review is finally published these particular matters will be covered in

31 Jul 1997 : Column 380

detail? Will the review include a comprehensive plan for small airfields, as asked by my noble friend Lord Rotherwick?

Part of the problem that local authorities are attempting to address is noise pollution. Of course, there are noise regulations for new aircraft. In another debate I have recently stated that I am wary of retrospective legislation. Furthermore, most light aircraft in use can meet international noise standards without modification, but that does not mean that there is no room for improvement. There are ways in which noise emissions of light aircraft can be reduced. My noble friend Lord Rotherwick mentioned silencers, multi-bladed propellers and, interestingly, magnetos, which are of course 1950s technology.

Some noise-reducing modifications would have other benefits to the operator and so would not necessarily be objectionable in cost terms. I am sure that so soon after the noble Lord spoke and so near to the Recess, the Minister and other noble Lords will not be disappointed if I do not repeat all the noble Lord's detailed arguments.

The Minister will be aware that there are many ways of measuring noise and I believe that PPG24 is relevant, although I have to confess that I am not familiar with the document. Is there more than one way of measuring aircraft noise? How is ambient noise accounted for and where is the noise from an airfield measured? Is the noise measured only on the airfield or is it at inhabited buildings near to the airfield or at all points of the compass?

I do not believe that the technical decisions that the CAA would need to take in order to secure improvements in noise emissions are too revolutionary. Some of the modifications that have been proposed this afternoon are already approved by the FAA. My noble friend Lord Rotherwick referred to the duplication of tests. The Minister will even be aware that aircraft registered with, and approved by, the FAA can fly in the United Kingdom without CAA approval of the modifications that have already been implemented. However, I do accept that the FAA is configured slightly differently from our own CAA.

My understanding is that the CAA is principally concerned with safety, but must have regard to environmental considerations. If we are to allow general aviation to continue to develop without unduly interfering with the right of others to their peace and quiet, the Minister might have to consider altering the CAA's terms of reference to give greater weight to environmental matters. That is another matter for the review to cover.

My final question is fairly general, but this is a good opportunity to ask it. The integrated transport review will be completed some time next year and no doubt there will be frustrating delays, such as those we experienced with the accelerated road review--and probably for the same sort of reasons. Does the Minister envisage a need for primary legislation as a result of some aspects of the review, particularly within her own areas of responsibility? Will there be a comprehensive and integrated transport Bill, such as the 1968 Act, or

31 Jul 1997 : Column 381

will there be only minor tinkering, using secondary legislation? Short though this debate has been, I am sure that it has been worthwhile. It will be interesting to hear how much the noble Baroness saves for her review.

4.6 p.m.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords--

Lord Graham of Edmonton: Wind-sock it to 'em!

Baroness Hayman: --I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, for initiating this debate, and those noble Lords who have participated. Although we have heard only a few speeches, their content has made clear the importance and the value that noble Lords attach to general aviation. That is well understood by the Government. Unlike others, I have no direct interest to declare, not holding a pilot's licence myself, and I certainly cannot emulate my predecessor in this post who I understand took to paragliding at one stage of his career. I do not want to follow him down that route. However, perhaps I should declare an interest in the sense that for five years I had the honour of representing Welwyn and Hatfield as constituency Member of Parliament in another place and I am aware of the history of that aerodrome and have flown from there.

Perhaps I should first set out the regulatory framework within which aerodromes operate, which requires a brief explanation of the CAA's responsibilities with regard to aviation safety. Flights involving the public transport of passengers or pilot instruction must generally use aerodromes licensed by the CAA, which requires that specific safety arrangements and facilities be available. Other flights can use unlicensed facilities, but the CAA publishes guidelines as to the minimum safety facilities that these should consider. Pilots using unlicensed facilities will in any case have demonstrated their competence to the CAA via the pilot licensing process. I can certainly assure the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, that airborne aircraft must comply at all times with the 1995 Air Navigation Order. Separately, developments at all aerodromes with flight operations on more than 28 days a year may be subject to scrutiny under the planning system.

It was in relation to the planning system that the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, highlighted the loss of aerodrome facilities in this country. It must however be remembered that the Government are not responsible for the development or operation of civil aerodromes. This is a matter for the owners or operators of those sites working within the bounds of the established planning system. The noble Lord rightly pointed to the pre-eminence of the plan-led system. I am pleased that aerodrome operators, users and their trade associations are paying more heed than in the past to the need to make their views known early in the planning process. This system allows for public participation and it is right that all those with an interest should participate in it. Where my department can, and does, help is by examining draft development plans to ensure that, where appropriate, they accord with published planning advice.

31 Jul 1997 : Column 382

Planning Policy Guidance Note 13 on transport, with a section highlighting to planning authorities the economic benefits of general aviation and smaller airports, has already been mentioned. In response to queries from the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, I confirm that we support the guidance set out in PPG13. As for a national planning policy, this guidance, including the approach to air transport, will be part of a wide-ranging review of policy leading to a White Paper on an integrated transport strategy to be published next year, to which the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred.

I confirm that civil aviation in all its guises has a role to play. I assure noble Lords that the environmental impact of aviation and airports and their contribution in terms of an integrated transport policy in this country will be integral to the review and the White Paper. We therefore encourage all interested parties, including the general aviation community, to respond to the consultation which will be launched shortly on the White Paper. In the meantime, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, and other noble Lords that the Government recognise the importance of general aviation, especially its contribution to business and flying training.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked whether the Government anticipated major legislation at the end of the White Paper. I believe that it would be wrong to prejudge the results of the consultation and what will go into the White Paper. What, if any, legislative framework follows must respond to what is set out in the White Paper.

I return to the issue of planning guidance. PPG24 also warns local authorities about inappropriate or noise-sensitive development such as new housing in the vicinity of aerodromes. But in the field of planning circumstances always vary from site to site and from one planning authority to another. It is therefore not appropriate to be more prescriptive. But the department is not aware of any concerted efforts by planning authorities to undermine general aviation.

The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, referred to particular cases where he believed that local authorities had ignored those interests. Our understanding is that Welling and Hatfield Borough Council engaged experienced consultants to study whether a general aviation use of Hatfield would be economically viable. I also understand that the option of a grass runway as part of an aviation heritage centre is among those currently being considered by the council.

As far as concerns South Cambridgeshire, I note the noble Lord's concern about the precedent that may be set for the CAA's regulatory role. I am pleased to report that South Cambridgeshire has formally sought CAA views on its supplementary planning guidance on aerodromes, and the two parties have since been actively discussing safety issues. The CAA has now given South Cambridgeshire specific guidance on safety requirements as well as more general advice on matters of policy. I can assure the House that the Civil Aviation Authority is very much aware of the issues involved. I can also reassure those noble Lords who have raised

31 Jul 1997 : Column 383

the point that planning authorities' policies on general aviation will be considered as part of the review of PPG13.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to the powers and competencies of the CAA. He is correct in his assertion that the CAA's primary responsibility is for the safety of aircraft. The authority has not at present indicated any problems arising from lack of powers in respect of environmental matters, but if it chose to do so in future we would give careful consideration to those concerns.

To return to individual cases, if a planning authority refuses planning permission for aerodrome development or takes enforcement action or one of the other options in the planning system, there is a right of appeal. In considering an appeal an inspector appointed by the Secretary of State will take account of all relevant circumstances and give them the appropriate weight according to published guidance. I am sure that noble Lords realise that I am unable to comment on the merits or otherwise of individual planning cases, especially where appeals are outstanding or decisions may be pending. That applies in the case of Little Gransden. But at the end of the day it is unrealistic to ask the Government to force an aerodrome to stay open if the owner or operator is determined to close it, be it publicly or privately owned. I emphasise again that it is perhaps at the early drafting stages of development plans that the department can have most influence.

I know that there is concern about some well-publicised cases of aerodromes closing or under threat. In fact the number of licensed aerodromes has remained close to its present total--just over 140--over the past few years. In addition, there are thought to be over 400 unlicensed aerodromes, as well as many more hang-gliding, paragliding and balloon launch sites. So while I can understand the concern of individuals about threats to their local aerodromes, that is not the national trend.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, asked about Farnborough in relation to business aviation. The MoD is currently in the process of tendering Farnborough Airfield for business aviation. The successful new operator, to be selected later this year, will be expected to continue its business aviation capacity. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is following that process carefully.

Perhaps I might write to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, about photographic pilot licences. That strikes a chord, because I am wrestling with photographic driving licences at the moment. On the issue of charges for private pilots, the European Commission has just issued a proposed directive setting a framework for airport charges to all users across the Community. The UK is taking an active role in negotiations in the Transport Council to ensure that the interests of the UK industry, including general aviation users, are taken into account.

31 Jul 1997 : Column 384

I turn to environmental considerations which have been highlighted in the debate. The environment is at the heart of the Government's policy concerns and throughout their transport considerations. I welcome and support the goal of the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, of reducing noise impacts of light aircraft. We must all recognise that noise from aircraft is a significant environmental nuisance at smaller aerodromes as well as at large international airports, although different in character and scale. But the prime responsibility is on aerodromes and pilots themselves to fly responsibly, and to be good neighbours. That has been acknowledged in the debate.

We know that leisure and private flying are found by many people to be generally more annoying than other forms of aviation. There are other patterns, which also emerge in the correspondence my department receives.

Localised or prolonged activities such as parachuting or aerobatics can also attract complaint, so here again it is important that those activities be conducted so as to minimise nuisance. The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, pointed to the need for a better behavioural code for flyers. In that context, we welcome the production of material such as the General Aviation Awareness Council's guide to considerate flying. That is an excellent document which, if followed, will ensure that flying will cause the least possible nuisance to people on the ground. In that area local public perception as to the nature and conduct of flying activities is central. That means that effective consultation with the community is in the interests of aerodrome, pilots and public alike. Some aerodromes are required, by designation under Section 35 of the Civil Aviation Act, to provide consultation facilities; but the non-designated aerodromes are not absolved of the need to communicate with their neighbours. As my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis commented in this House earlier this year, we are keen to see good practice at all aerodromes. I am happy to commend again the very constructive advice on that subject produced by the General Aviation Awareness Council.

On the issue of aircraft noise reduction, the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, mentioned the various noise reduction devices that are available for individual aircraft, and where those are officially sanctioned I would hope that operators would choose to fit them. But it must be right that the CAA, as the body responsible for aircraft safety, must be convinced that their use does not diminish safety standards. In several instances, noise reducing measures developed in research institutes have fallen short of those standards in practice. There have been cases where such equipment has had an effect on airworthiness through vibration, reduction in engine cooling, airframe fatigue, power loss or weight increase. The CAA is considering this matter in collaboration with colleagues in the European Joint Airworthiness Authority from the safety viewpoint and, with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, from the noise angle. I should add that, while we welcome technological advances to individual

31 Jul 1997 : Column 385

aircraft, they are wasted if the aircraft are operated in an inconsiderate manner. I am sure that noble Lords who are pilots will understand that even better than I do.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked some specific questions about noise and its measurement. He is right in saying that there is more than one way to measure aircraft noise, but the system used within the United Kingdom is well respected and internationally accepted. He asked how ambient noise was accounted for. Ideally, it is accounted for by siting monitors away from where the ambient noise is generated. However, if unavoidable, allowance will be made for the ambient noise if it is, for instance, background traffic noise. As regards the place from where noise at an airfield is measured, two options are available. It can be done by siting the noise monitors at the most sensitive areas or by putting monitors where the aircraft are noisiest, which is UK policy. Therefore, we have a level playing field between the measurements taken at different aerodromes.

In conclusion, I wish to reassure noble Lords that the Government recognise the concerns of general aviation users and the role which small aerodromes can play in facilitating business aircraft and the training of pilots. Furthermore, we recognise that that is a legitimate interest which should be taken into account when we consult on the integrated transport White Paper.

Equally, we are committed to striking the right balance between aviation and the environment. The integrated transport White Paper will give us all the opportunity to consider these issues in the round. It is a theme that in the balance between transport, mobility

31 Jul 1997 : Column 386

and the environment, it is vital that we tackle across the transport field if we are to achieve an integrated transport policy that is the Government's aim.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page