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Column 317distress that will be suffered by residents. Once night flights are established, the authorities may be reluctant to withdraw them, especially at times when delays are excessive. That point is highlighted when we consider that passenger demand is estimated to rise by up to 10 per cent. per annum.
Many of the problems can be anticipated and therefore overcome when we consider that for any increase in charter flights in the summer the traffic schedules are drawn up about nine months in advance. The ensuing chaos could thus have been foreseen. Furthermore, any increase in activity will add to the problem of air safety, especially near-misses. Yet decisions are frequently made without consultation with interested bodies and without safeguards. Heathrow is unique in that it is located in the suburbs of a capital city, near my constituency, with its runways pointed towards the heart of the city. As a result, Heathrow has the world's worst airport environmental problems.
The issue of congestion in controlled airspace above London and in other parts of Europe comes sharply into view during the summer months. In 1983, the Civil Aviation Authority pointed out that while the then current capacity of the London terminal manoeuvring area had about 130 air movements per hour, the potential traffic-generating capacity at Heathrow was 71, Gatwick 40 and Luton 16, which was 127 aircraft movements per hour. Moreover, other movements, essentially from other airfields, amounted to seven movements per hour, giving a peak demand of 134 movements per hour even before Stansted was taken into account. My source for that is CAA paper 84006. That problem has worsened significantly over the intervening years since those figures were originally published.
The National Air Traffic Service is gradually introducing new equipment with major radar replacements and electronic data displays, for example, and wholly reorganising the use of controlled airspace within the London terminal manoeuvring area. A new system of air traffic control for the south-east, known as the central control function, will enable the NATS to handle at least 30 per cent. more traffic by the mid-1990s. In the short term, by specifying the number of aircraft that can be received, the NATS is imposing limits on airport capacity during peak periods. That not only delays visitors to the United Kingdom--it delays British holidaymakers at airports in this country when it is employed by other European air traffic control centres.
The total reorganisation of the LTMA is programmed to take place in seven stages until 1995. The basis upon which the NATS is undertaking this exercise is unclear, but if it is assumed that Stansted should be developed to the maximum potential of a single runway, it would be necessary to plan for a peak demand of 185 to 200 aircraft movements per hour in the LTMA. Those figures are based upon the following hourly aircraft movements : Heathrow, 72; Stansted, 40; Luton, 20; and minor airfields and overflyers, 13 to 28. There is some uncertainty about the point at which the growth of aircraft movements at Stansted will adversely affect such movements at Luton. If,
Column 318however, that assumption is invalid, there would be a need to extend the capacity of controlled airspace in the LTMA by between 42 and 54 per cent.
There could also be an impact in the long term at the world's major airports, as congestion would limit the number of aircraft handled by the end of the century, constraining the development of air transport. For example, in 1987 in the United States delays caused airlines to lose the equivalent of almost 100 days in aircraft operating time every day. That figure was based on a typical 10 hours per day use of each aircraft in their fleets to compensate for delays. Those difficulties at airports cost United States airlines some $2 billion in 1987, or 4 per cent. of revenue last year. That exceeded total airline profits in any single year. It is worth noting that United States flights suffer an average delay of 15 minutes. Problems for airline manufacturers would include cash flow considerations and low profit margins, which would limit new civil aircraft programmes on both sides of the Atlantic to about one new project every seven to 10 years. Europe launched new principal aircraft types over the past 20 years as European manufacturers caught up the ground lost to United States airline manufacturers. Boeing launched three new programmes in the past 20 years. Consequently, the development in the design of new airliners will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
A review of the past 15 years shows that to solve the problem British aviation interests must take a major part of the blame for the chaos in the air over Europe and the consequent congestion on the ground in the United Kingdom. All the aviation experts have consistently claimed that aircraft would get larger so that fewer, quicker aircraft would be required. At the last major aircraft industry inquiry, the British Airports Authority stated that Heathrow would handle 53 million passengers per annum, with 300,000 aircraft movements--about 177 passengers per plane. Currently, Heathrow is managing about 38.2 MPPA, with 332,000 aircraft movements--about 115 passengers per plane.
The result of this inaccurate forecasting is that 50 per cent. more aircraft than expected are needed to handle passenger demand. Heathrow and Gatwick are running out of aircraft capacity during the day and the air traffic control system must cope with 50 per cent. more flights than expected. As Heathrow and Gatwick are the two biggest international airports in the world, they dominate the European system, so if Britain gets it wrong the whole of Europe suffers. European air traffic controllers therefore cannot plan efficiently if the United Kingdom's forecasting is inaccurate. It is true also that, if the Government relax the restrictions on night flights, the rest of Europe will be under pressure, so this must not happen. It has been argued that larger aircraft will solve the problem, but few airlines are planning to fly any because passengers see greater choice in frequency and destination rather than in simply consolidating existing services. Continental airports close at night, and so should ours.
Europe's aviation authorities have been urged to co-operate in urgent and efficient plans to ease airspace congestion and provide capacity to meet demand through the 1990s. Last November, Lord Brabazon, president of Eurocontrol, requested an investigation into the short-term ways in which congestion could be relieved. He called for a greater pooling of information on national plans for handling air traffic, for the removal of incompatibilities in
Column 319national air traffic control systems in Europe and for the immediate identification of remedial measures for implementation. The Minister called for a new common strategy for improving the efficiency of the air traffic control system throughout Eurocontrol's member states. Lord Brabazon also called for controls in the financing of Eurocontrol and urged member states to make readily available the resources needed to undertake the necessary work, fully recovering the costs from air transport users.
There is also a need to upgrade Eurocontrol's central data bank to improve the future operation of flow control in Europe. Only time will tell whether the changes will result in any movement in the existing system. I warmly welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and my hon Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle), who is also in his place.
A more far-sighted approach to the problem of congestion would be to switch traffic from the south-east airports-- [Interruption] I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown), who is the Whip, to listen--and actively to encourage increased activity in the regional airports. That would benefit operators and users alike, while spreading the effects of aircraft activity.
For instance, Gatwick at present handles some 21 million passengers per year and is designed to take 25 million. Rather than planning for increased capacity at Gatwick better solution would be to direct growth to the regions and to Stansted. The first stage of Stansted's development will be ready by 1991, when it will be able to handle about 8 million passengers per year and when there will be a fast rail link to Liverpool street station.
Already about 50 per cent. of Gatwick's passengers come from north of the Thames. If more services were available nearer to passengers' homes, it would reduce the need to travel through London and thus reduce travelling time and costs to the consumer. It would also have the beneficial effect of alleviating road congestion in my constituency and those of other hon. Members in west London. One measure that could be employed in promoting regional development would be to provide incentives to airline operators to use regional airports. The British Airports Authority is in a strong market position, given that it has monopoly control of London's airports, and can offer attractive landing charges to operators to encourage the use of Heathrow and Gatwick. An unlikely solution would be to ask the BAA to increase its landing charges to allow regional airports to compete more readily. A more likely solution may be provided by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The BAA price control formula is reviewed every five years by the commission and the first review is due to be carried out in 1991. That may provide an initial foothold for changing the pricing structure for aircraft use and could be employed in providing the incentive for operations to shift from the south-east to the regions.
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) on his erudite speech. He seems to have answered some of the questions implicit in his remarks. It would be proper for me to acknowledge the interest shown in the matter by the hon. Member for
Column 320Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) and to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown), who shows care and concern for those of us who are worried about airport noise, as well as the need for mobility and for transport issues generally. He also shows kindness in helping us with our own transport arrangements. He is one of the silent servants of the House and the Government.
The reason for air traffic control is air safety, as all those who have served in military or civil aviation will know. The first consideration in the handling of air traffic is safety.
United Kingdom civil aviation is, happily, among the safest in the world. That has not come about by chance, but because of work, consultation, debate--sometimes robust debate--attention to detail, and because, as Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales said when she visited the Civil Aviation Authority,
"It takes a special kind of person to work in air traffic control."
In the Civil Aviation Authority report which came out today, Mr. Tugendhat, the chairman, said :
"This has been another exceptionally busy year for the Authority in all its main areas of activity. The National Air Traffic Services, both at airports and centres, again dealt with more record-breaking traffic levels. There was an overall 11 per cent. increase in air traffic handled by civil controllers in the year up to the end of March, on top of the 9 per cent. growth experienced in the previous year. In addition, several milestones were passed in connection with the Authority's ambitious £600 million investment programme in new air traffic control equipment and facilities."
I leave the rest of the report to be read by those who want to pursue an interest in it. I believe that it shows that many good things are being achieved.
There is no reason and no need for complacency. On a slightly lighter note, to acknowledge the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), I must recall the Flanders and Swann song about how much safer air travel was than going on the roads--and their claim that perhaps the airline coaches had instructions to ensure that the statistics were kept favourable.
Mr. Bottomley : Before I give way to my hon. Friend, can I just acknowledge that I followed him all the way to his constituency last week, and he drove impeccably? That is probably one reason why the road statistics are improving in the same way as the aviation statistics. I give way to my hon. Friend, who is acknowledged to be the policeman's friend.
Mr. Shersby : After that wonderful tribute, I am loth to intervene in my hon. Friend's speech. He may, however, have heard Mr. Tugendhat on the radio this morning say that it was the CAA's intention to step up recruitment of air traffic controllers very considerably and to recruit at the rate, I believe, of more than 160 a year for the next few years. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that that will make a great contribution towards improving air traffic control.
It is appropriate to acknowledge that the Civil Aviation Authority has responsibility in these matters. It is one area in which we do not have split responsibility. The CAA has the responsibility, and it is important that Ministers do not
Column 321interfere when matters of safety are involved. In the same way as I assume responsibility for road safety and help to organise the alliance that drives casualty rates down, the CAA has that responsibility for air safety, which it should be allowed to carry out without the Minister going in for the cheap political gesture. I pay tribute to my noble Friend the Minister for Aviation and Shipping, Lord Brabazon, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North mentioned.
I have talked about air safety, but I also want to talk about the need to remove any unnecessary obstacles to increased traffic at regional airports. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North was right--I think that he had the whole-hearted support of my hon. Friends the Members for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) and for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle)--in trying to ensure that people can fly from the areas that are most convenient to them. That would mean that fewer people would drive through the areas that are less convenient to those of us who represent London constituencies. I acknowledge the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes in keeping unnecessary traffic out of London. I only wish that more London papers could recognise that that is my policy as well, rather than continually repeating the misguided--sometimes the deliberately misguided-- reports from others.
The Government believe in the importance of the role of regional airports in meeting demand. Consistent policy has been to encourage the use and development of the regional airports to meet as much as they can of the demand that arises locally. That encouragement has tangible form. Since 1981-82, the Government have approved capital allocations totalling more than £240 million towards the development and expansion of local authority airports. I am delighted to report that traffic at many regional airports is growing healthily. For example, Manchester airport handled 9.5 million passengers in 1988, which is an increase of 87 per cent. in the past five years. The Government have approved investment for a second major passenger terminal there.
It would be a mistake to suppose that expansion at Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow or Northern Ireland would make possible a radical shift in the pattern of demand for air services. It is a fact that about three out of four passengers at London airports start or finish their journeys in the south-east. In time we shall see more of a regional balance, as people begin to realise the attractions of living and working in the north-east, the north-west, the south-west, Wales and Scotland.
Under this Government, we have seen greater recognition of regional opportunities, rather than relying on a few civil servants sitting in a London office block and trying to direct others away from London. We have been trying to build up the proper attractions of other regions in terms of community, education and quality of life because that will lead to a greater movement away from London and the south-east, and will remove some of the terrible development pressures which have been suffered on the outskirts of London. I therefore welcome this opportunity to stress the importance of this topical subject of air traffic control and capacity. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North referred to the dispute in France. We should acknowledge
Column 322what some of our disputes have done to other people. Let us imagine, for example, a person who is trying to tour England, but who finds that some mode of transport cannot be used. I hope that, both in this country and in Europe, we can work towards recognising our responsibilities towards others and that we should not--whether we are French or English, British or European in a more general sense--wantonly destroy the holiday of a lifetime for people who may have been saving up for their first chance to visit the "Costa Lot". Naturally, I hope that many people will follow my habit of taking my main summer holiday in the United Kingdom, whether it be to the loughs of Northern Ireland, the lakes of Wales, the lochs of Scotland or the coast of the Isle of Wight. I am sure that many people want to appreciate what we have in Britain. However, those who want to go the "Costa Lot" should have the chance of flying without unnecessary delay.
I pay tribute to many people involved in the travel business, not only to the operators, but also to the agents who have made it possible for many more people from this nation to see places abroad, whether they are in the rest of Europe, across the Atlantic or in other parts of the world.
We should remember that the difficulties that we are now facing, leaving aside the additional issue of disputes, are the result of successes in both the industry and the economy. Those successes have led to levels of activity and volumes of traffic which no one could have predicted. The challenge now is to ensure that there is sufficient capacity in the system to accommodate the traffic and to realise the fruit that it can yield.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North referred to the CAA's advice. The 1985 White Paper set out strategy to take us through to the mid-1990s. There is now a need to carry forward White Paper strategy. Last summer, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State commissioned the CAA to provide advice covering both airport and airspace capacity. The authority has consulted widely, and today has published advice on the traffic distribution policy for the London airports. This is an important piece of work, and we shall now study it carefully. In doing so, we will also be keeping in mind views expressed on the subject by the Select Committee on Transport in its report published in March, and the report published last week by the independent committee chaired by Lord Rawlinson.
The CAA now proposes to do further technical work to provide us next summer with advice on airport capacity in the longer term, including on the key question of runway capacity. It would be wrong to anticipate the authority's advice on those longer term issues tonight.
One reason for tonight's Adjournment debate is to put more of these issues on the public agenda, rather than to go in for quick snap answers and responses to the CAA's initial views and to the later views, yet to come forward.
I turn now to the major causes of aircraft delays. We must remember that aircrafts do not have feelings, except for that jumbo jet that we keep reading about. It is people--passengers--who have feelings and who are affected by aircraft delays. The major cause of delays to aircraft is airspace congestion, which affects all airports in the United Kingdom, and is not confined to airports in the south-east. There is a shortage of airspace capacity throughout Europe. It is not a problem confined to the popular
Column 323holiday destinations like Greece and Spain. Countries like the Federal Republic of Germany, France and the United Kingdom all face a serious shortfall in capacity.
At busy times, flow management restrictions have to be introduced. Aircraft are either re-routed round the congested bottlenecks, or are held on the ground until the system can accommodate them. Without flow management, the system would become overloaded at busy times with too many aircraft entering the airspace for the controllers to handle safely.
Even if everything was working smoothly, flow management is needed nowadays at busy times to keep the system safe. As has been said, it is worth remembering that the take-off slot times which the aircraft would be given would not usually delay them for very long--say, for 15 to 20 minutes.
One reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes has lent his presence to the debate--he has been heard giving his support to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North--is the issue of night flights. Our policy on this is clear. The Government are committed to improving the night noise climate around Gatwick and Heathrow without imposing unnecessary restrictions on the airline industry. Those two points together are the points that matter most.
Mr. Bottomley : I am not an expert on continental airports. I am aware that aeroplanes are at times delayed. One occasionally hears even of Concorde coming across a little late. There are times when one hears a plane in the middle of the night, but that is rare in London and it normally occurs because there has been a delay elsewhere or because of some other problem. To take an absolutist view may not be possible, but if my noble Friend the Minister for Aviation and Shipping has points to add to my response, I will pass them on to my hon. Friend.
Column 324My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North said that London Heathrow, if not the closest in, affected the population most. A larger population here may be affected, but I remember coming in to land at Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong. At least, when coming into Heathrow, one does not find oneself flying beneath buildings, with people looking down from their bathroom windows as one's jumbo jet comes into land.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North was making the point that there was potential in London for a large number of people to be disturbed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes reminded us, all the planes seem to change gear as they pass over his constituency.
Traffic forecasting is not an exact science. It is difficult to do. We are learning all the time and we hope to move forward so that, at London airports and throughout the country, we can meet people's needs. In all forms of transport, we are dedicated to do the best we can to make life better, not worse, and to extend opportunity, while maintaining, if possible improving, the environmental impact which is part of the airline industry.
To that extent, we are getting better and quieter planes and a safer air traffic control system. All those involved, whether in the Government, in the CAA or in the lobby groups, have much of which to be proud. I hope that we shall continue to make further improvements.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.
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