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Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one argument advanced by the airlines for early morning arrivals is the lack of terminal space a little later in the morning, which makes it difficult to unload large aircraft that arrive after 6 am? Does he agree that if terminal 5 went ahead, one of the major arguments offered by the airlines to support continuing early morning arrivals would disappear?

Mr. Colman: I am interested in that point, which I have not heard before. When I returned recently from the United States on an early morning flight, I was put on an isolated stand and bussed back to the terminal, so I do not believe that that is a problem. More isolated stands could be used after 6 am.

My constituent's letter continues:

and from my own--

    "of flying this route, the jetstream can reduce this to as little as 5 hours, making the landing times even earlier. Later evening flights out of the East Coast"--

from, say, 9 pm onwards--

    "would be advantageous to passengers in avoiding rush hour traffic, take-off congestion and a more natural time to go to sleep."

Clearly there are answers to the problem of re-scheduling night flights, if the airlines wish to apply them.

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Appendix E of the consultation document notes the night restrictions at foreign airports, and that seems to be the nub of the economic argument. If Heathrow closes at night, and if there is no ban on night flights into Paris Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam Schipol or Frankfurt-am-Main--as at present--Heathrow will lose out. The argument is, therefore, that Heathrow must have its night flights.

May I ask the Government to take up the matter with our European Union partners at the next intergovernmental meeting, and to seek a ban on night flights across Europe? I cannot believe that that is impossible to achieve. We are truly in a zero-sum game: if no European airport will accept flights during the night, no single airport will suffer. I note from appendix E that Tokyo Narita airport and Sydney airport close to all traffic through the night from 11 pm to 6 am. It can be done.

I pray in aid two further points. First, as long ago as 1995, the European Parliament in resolution A4-0012/95, section 5b, called for

Secondly, the draft manifesto for the European elections of the Party of European Socialists was agreed in Milan last week, and commitment 11--"Ensuring a Health Environment"--states that

    "pollution does not respect national boundaries. We can only deliver a sound environment if we work together to raise common standards."

I appreciate that change will take time, so I have various suggestions for action while we await a pan-European ban as the outcome of the second consultation. First, I suggest an immediate ban on night flights from 11.30 pm to 4 am to reflect current unspoken practice, and to establish a principle in favour of a ban using the powers of my hon. Friend the Minister under section 78(3)(b) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982.

Secondly, I suggest a change in the time period for all other restrictions, to run from October 1999 to October 2000--not October 2004--to enable time for a European night flight ban to be agreed by the new European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Thirdly, I suggest that the night-time ban could come into effect across Europe--including Heathrow--in October 2000. It would be a fitting symbol of the millennium, putting people ahead of a spurious zero-sum game of economic interests.

I commend my proposals to the Minister. I do not expect an immediate reply, but I hope that they may provide a basis for the decision that the Government will take on the future of night flights into Heathrow.

1.39 pm

The Minister for Transport in London (Ms Glenda Jackson): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) on securing this debate on an important issue that has occupied this House on two recent occasions--on 24 July last year in a debate initiated by the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend), who is in his place, and before that on 28 October 1997, in a debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney when we considered day-time and night-time noise.

The main issue at night is of course interference with sleep and the distress and annoyance that can cause, which is a problem not only for the constituents of my

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hon. Friend the Member for Putney, but for thousands of people who live around Heathrow and under its principal flight paths. Heathrow, of course, is not unique in that respect. My hon. Friend referred to the Government's two-stage consultation on future night restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports. Our aim has been to make consultation as open and accessible as possible, and for that reason we decided to proceed in two stages.

The preliminary consultation paper issued in February last year sought views on all aspects of the present regime introduced in 1993, including the underlying principles. After careful consideration of all the responses, on 10 September last year I decided that the movement limits and noise quotas for the three airports for summer 1999 should be the same as they were for summer 1998. In November we issued a second consultation paper inviting comments on the Government's proposals for future restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, to run from 31 October 1999 for five years until the end of the summer season in 2004.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Putney said, the second consultation paper also considers a range of options for changes to the preferential use of Heathrow's runways at night, which follows up on the trials of night-time runway alternation. The Government have not reached any view on the many options outlined in the second consultation paper, but we believe it right that those issues should be examined thoroughly before any decision is made.

The closing date for the second consultation paper was 12 February 1999, and the process of logging the many responses and studying them is under way. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Putney and the House will understand that I cannot comment today on the responses we have received or on the decisions we may reach in the light of them.

Night flights have never been banned at Heathrow. Restrictions were introduced in 1962 in recognition of the disturbance caused to local people by the first generation of jet aircraft. Those very noisy aircraft have long since been banned from United Kingdom and other European airports and the process of phasing out the second generation of jets certificated to ICAO Chapter 2 standards is well under way and will be complete by the end of March 2002. In setting restrictions on night flights, successive Governments have sought to strike a balance between the impact such flights can have on people living around airports and the need for airlines to operate services at night, taking account of the user and the economic benefits they bring.

Mr. Hammond: I recognise the Minister's arguments about the economic benefits of night flights, but may I suggest a way in which we might reduce the problem a little without any serious economic impact? The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) mentioned the earlier than scheduled arrival of flights, especially from the USA, as one of the problems that contributes to early morning disturbance. I understand that flights arriving early are required by Civil Aviation Authority regulations to land immediately. The airline does not have the option of holding that flight away from the airport so that it lands

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at the scheduled time which is, after all, the time that the passengers expect to arrive. It does them no good to be dumped on the ground up to two hours early.

Will the Minister consult the CAA to see whether it is possible to change the guidance so that early arriving aircraft could be held, perhaps over the Bay of Biscay or somewhere convenient, so that they arrive after the curfew deadline and do not contribute to the noise nuisance?

Ms Jackson: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting proposal. As a nervous flier, the idea of going round and round the Bay of Biscay for two hours before my aeroplane was allowed to land at Heathrow, after a long international flight, fills me with horror. I will consider the hon. Gentleman's request, but his proposal could lead to gross unfairness. Many aircraft arrive early due to conditions over which no one has any control--not least the winds--and that could cause difficulties.

Mr. Colman: The concept of planes circling over the Bay of Biscay also fills me with horror, but my hon. Friend the Minister might wish to consider a slightly different proposal. When flight plans are logged at, for example, Kennedy airport in New York, and they show that the flight will take five hours, not seven hours, the plane could be held on the ground for two hours to ensure that it makes the time at which it is due to arrive. That could perhaps be achieved through co-operation.

Ms Jackson: As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, I have no jurisdiction over the flight plans at Kennedy airport. The USA is an independent, sovereign state. I can examine the issue, but I have no jurisdiction in the area.

The present restrictions specify a night period, ll pm to 7 am, during which time the noisiest aircraft may not be scheduled to land or take off. In addition, from 11.30 pm to 6 am, the night quota period, aircraft movements are restricted by a movements limit and a noise quota. The noise quota is a supplementary measure designed to encourage the use of quieter aircraft. Aircraft count against the noise quota according to their quota count--or QC--classification, with the noisier the aircraft, the higher its QC. The movements limits and noise quotas are set for the season as a whole: they are not sub-divided across the hours of the night or between types of services, and airlines may operate services as they wish within the limits and quota available.

The Government's main objectives in carrying out the current review of the night restrictions are, first, to strike a balance between the need to protect local communities from excessive aircraft noise levels at night and to provide for air services to operate at night where they benefit the local, regional and national economy.

We recognise that local environmental expectations may be changing, as may the commercial interests of the airlines. Our second objective is to take account of the competitive factors affecting UK airports and airlines. Our third objective is to take account of the research into the relationship between aircraft noise and interference with sleep, including any health effects, and the fourth is to safeguard improvements in the noise climate in the night quota period since 1993, which we are proposing to do by reducing the noise quotas to nearer the level of current usage. The fifth objective is to encourage the use of quieter aircraft at night, and the sixth is to put in place at

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Heathrow and Gatwick arrangements which will bring about further improvements in the night noise climate around the airports over time.

In pursuing the last two objectives, it has not been possible in the Government's proposals for Heathrow to make as much progress as we would have wished. Most aircraft using Heathrow are already modern types with many years of service ahead of them and, of course, there are tight constraints on runway and terminal capacity at the south-east airports.

It is not possible in the time available to cover all aspects of the Government's many and detailed proposals contained in the second stage consultation paper. However, among the main ones relating to Heathrow are proposals to maintain the QC system and seasonal movement limits supplemented by noise quotas; to reduce the seasonal noise quotas for Heathrow to nearer the level of current usage in order to safeguard the improvements in the noise climate in the night quota period since 1993; subject to the proposed review of the QC system, to ban aircraft classified QC4 from being scheduled to land or take off during the night quota period from the start of the 2002 summer season; to extend the restrictions on very noisy aircraft classified as QC8 to match those already in place for the noisiest types classified as QC16; and to reduce end-of-season flexibility by half. However, it is not proposed to introduce a complete ban on night flights as that would fail in our objective of striking a balance.

Aircraft noise at night and during the day remains a contentious subject. We freely acknowledge that. Unfortunately, despite the great improvements made over the past 30 years, it is likely to remain so. I announced on 27 February last year that we are commissioning a research trial into the impact of aircraft noise at night. We are particularly interested in the scope for research into sleep prevention: that is, delay in getting to sleep at night and the difficulties of not being able to get back to sleep after being awakened in the early morning--a problem mentioned by my hon. Friend as being the experience of his constituents. However, we should not underestimate the complexities of such research, or the length of time it may take.

The difficulties of scheduling intercontinental services is a significant factor in the present pattern of early morning arrivals at Heathrow. The night curfew at Hong Kong's former airport Kai Tak was often said to contribute to that, but it was far from being the only or the most important reason. We do not expect the pattern of movements to change radically now that Hong Kong's new airport at Chek Lap Kok has opened. Such services and similar ones cross many time zones, which limits their scheduling window for making suitable connections with other services. In addition, many services are now able to complete their journey non-stop owing to technological improvements and shorter routings, which means that they arrive earlier. There are now few departures from Heathrow during the night quota period, but some that take off just before our restrictions begin land at sensitive times at other international airports as a result.

In his own inimitable way, my hon. Friend referred to the fact that other comparable European airports have tougher night restrictions, but that is usually not the case at European countries' principal international airports--indeed, most have less severe restrictions and few have any restrictions at all on the number of chapter 3 aircraft

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that may operate at night, as we have at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. In addition, most European cities are one hour ahead of London--an advantage that might go some way to explain why there is little interest in Europe in establishing common standards for night restrictions. In respect of my hon. Friend's interesting suggestion regarding the European Parliament, it is unlikely that an agreement of that sort could be achieved in less than 12 months.

My hon. Friend focused on aircraft landing at Heathrow in the early morning, from 4 am onwards and sometimes earlier. That is understandable, given that such flights now constitute the substantial majority of night flights at Heathrow. They fly over Putney and neighbouring areas when the wind is from the west, and over Windsor and adjoining areas when the wind is from the east. Internationally agreed standards and safe operating practice require that landing aircraft follow a stable straight-in descent aligned with the runway, which precludes dispersal of noise once aircraft are established on the airport's instrument landing system, normally at a distance of between 8 and 16 nautical miles and between 10 and 20 nautical miles at night.

My hon. Friend is aware of and referred to the trial of runway alternation at night for landing aircraft carried out by BAA for the Heathrow airport consultative committee. The results were summarised in our second consultation paper. The survey of local opinion organised by HACC indicated that there was a balance of opinion in favour of the procedure's introduction on a continuous basis. The Government have invited further views from the wider area likely to be affected, and opinions on some of the practical difficulties of applying it during the hour from 6 am to 7 am.

We have also asked for views on the operation of the 5-knot westerly preference at night, which has caused concern for people living to the west of Heathrow. Westerly preference is a noise amelioration procedure introduced in the 1960s to reduce the number of aircraft taking off over the more densely populated areas to the east of the airport. It is generally recognised to be an effective noise amelioration measure during the day, but because the pattern of night flights has changed since the 1960s and there are seldom take-offs between 11.30 pm and 6 am, but more landings between 4 am and 6 am, maintaining the procedure at night might now be having the opposite effect of increasing overflight of the most densely populated areas east of the airport.

The Government consider it necessary to review the use of that procedure at night, as well as the related issue of night-time runway alternation. However, the Government have not formed any view on the matter; at this stage, we do not favour any one option over another, including the status quo. All responses will be taken into account, including views on which options would provide the greatest benefits overall, which would provide the greatest improvements over the current arrangements, and what would be fair and equitable, taking account of operations during the day as well as at night.

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