Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twentieth Report


COM(01) 695

COM(01) 74

Draft Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the
establishment of rules and procedures with regard to the introduction of noise
related operating restrictions at Community airports.

Draft Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the
establishment of a Community framework for noise classification of civil
subsonic aircraft for the purposes of calculating noise charges.

Legal base:Article 80 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Document originated:(a) 28 November 2001
(b) 20 December 2001
Forwarded to the Council: (a) 3 December 2001
(b) 21 December 2001
Deposited in Parliament: (a) 3 January 2002
(b) 23 January 2002
Department:Transport, Local Government and the Regions
Basis of consideration: (a) EM of 17 January 2002
(b) EM of 6 February 2002
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: 25/26 March 2002
Committee's assessment:Legally and politically important
Committee's decision:(Both) For debate in European Standing Committee A


  3.1  Civil aircraft are required to comply with international noise standards agreed through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as governed by the Chicago Convention 1944 (as amended). The noise standards, which are expressed in decibels and classified according to aircraft performance, such as on take-off and landing, are set out in Annex 16 of the Chicago Convention. For example, "Chapter 1" covers non­certified civil aircraft dating from before 1969, which are particularly noisy and are now banned in both the EU and the US by international agreement (with rare exceptions). "Chapter 2"covers the older types of sub­sonic and heavy propeller driven aircraft, including the Boeing 727 and McDonnell Douglas DC­9. "Chapter 3" applies to all newer types of sub­sonic aircraft, which are the quietest jet aircraft currently in service, and include the Boeing 757 and Airbus 320.[3]

  3.2  In recent years, there have been moves to phase out the noisiest categories of aircraft. In 1990, ICAO adopted regulations calling for the phasing out of all "Chapter 2" aircraft by 2002, thus making "Chapter 3" aircraft the acceptable standard.[4] Under EC Directive 92/14/EEC, "Chapter 2" aircraft, would no longer be allowed to operate in Europe from April 2002. Such aircraft have already been phased out in the United States. Airlines could, however, avoid investing in more modern aircraft by installing special equipment ("hushkits") to reduce the noise levels of "Chapter 2" aircraft and bring them into line with "Chapter 3" noise standards. The disadvantage of these hushkitted aircraft is that they are only just capable of meeting Chapter 3 standards and are considerably noisier than more modern (or re-engined older) aircraft which benefit from the latest engine technology. Hushkits, which are manufactured in the US, are more common on US-registered aircraft than those registered in European countries.

  3.3  In April 1999, the Council adopted the so-called "Hushkits" Regulation (EC 925/99), which:

  • would prevent the addition of re-certificated aircraft to member states' registers from May 2000[5]; and

  • would prevent the introduction of such aircraft on services into the Community by third countries from April 2002.

  3.4  In short, the Hushkits Regulation would ban the addition of hushkitted aircraft to European airline fleets. According to the Commission:

    "The Hushkit Regulation 'froze' the fleet of the noisiest re-certificated aircraft, which can be registered in, or operated into, the EU. The Regulation entered into force in May 2000, but will only take effect for airplanes registered in third countries on April 1, 2002. After that date, third­country aircraft with acquired rights would be able to continue to operate without restriction."

  3.5  In March 2000 the US formally challenged the validity of the Hushkits Regulation by invoking a dispute arbitration procedure under Article 84 of the Chicago Convention. The US Government, which apparently saw the Regulation as damaging the sale of older aircraft by US airlines to other countries, threatened retaliatory actions, such as restricting Concorde flights, if the Hushkits Regulation was implemented.

  3.6  The dispute seems to have been resolved following negotiations between the European Commission and the US under the auspices of ICAO. In September 2001, the ICAO General Assembly adopted a resolution that amongst other things, allowed for the complete withdrawal from operations of marginally compliant aircraft (i.e. aircraft with a margin of less than 5 decibels compared to "Chapter 3" limits) at noise-sensitive airports and a recognition that solutions to noise problems needed to be tailored to the specific characteristics of the airport concerned. Member States have a number of policies to help manage noise. According to the Explanatory Memorandum of 17 January 2002 from the Minister for State for Transport (Mr John Spellar) the solution emphasises a 'balanced approach' to aircraft noise management comprising four elements:

  • reducing noise at source (i.e. noise standards for engines);

  • operational procedures to limit noise;

  • land-use planning and management;

  • operating restrictions, including the withdrawal of complete classes of noisy aircraft at particular airports.

  3.7  According to the Minister,

    "The US Government appears to have agreed that if the EU repeals the Hushkits Regulation by April 2002, it will withdraw its formal action against the EU."

The documents

  3.8  Document (a) seeks to replace the Hushkits Regulation with new rules on noisy aircraft which are expected to provide similar environmental benefits at airports where there are perceived noise problems. The Commission adopted the draft Directive

    "on aircraft noise that fully integrates a new international standard agreed last June as well as the resolutions agreed at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) General Assembly in September. Under the proposed directive, new operating restrictions on noisy aircraft, including banning them altogether, may be introduced at the worst­affected European airports once, as required by international rules, a thorough analysis of the problem and possible solution has been carried out. The Commission's proposed directive would also repeal the so­called 'hushkits' Regulation, resolving a long­standing dispute with the United States.

    "The Commission's Directive has been proposed to establish an EU­wide approach to the control of aircraft noise at and around airports. The objective is to ensure that there is no overall increase, and to pave the way for a reduction, in aircraft noise after the completion of the phase out of so­called 'Chapter 2' noise certificated aircraft in April 2002. The directive proposes a common approach to the assessment of the current and future noise climate and of the possible effects of a range of measures with the goal of providing environmental benefits in the most cost effective way. Where necessary, airports may require marginally compliant aircraft [i.e., those that meet the 'Chapter 3' noise certification standard by a margin of 5dB (decibels) or less] to be withdrawn from service to that airport over a period of not less than 5 years.

    "Article 14 of the proposed Commission directive repeals the 'hushkit' Regulation 925/1999. This would remove the cause of a dispute between the EU and the United States over the use of hushkitted aircraft in Europe. The EU action had the effect of restarting negotiations in ICAO which culminated in the agreement earlier this year on a new stricter certification standard 'Chapter 4', a process for re-certification, and an ICAO Resolution on the airport­by­airport approach to withdrawal of the noisiest aircraft."

  3.9  The Minister told us:

    "The proposed Directive would apply to civil airports located in EU member states that have more than 50,000 movements per year (excluding training flights on light aircraft), of which we estimate there were 26 in the UK in 2000. There are additional provisions for 'City Airports' where aircraft noise is thought to exacerbate existing noise problems. The only UK airports specified as 'City Airports' are London City Airport and Belfast City Airport.

    "The proposed Directive would require the designation of an independent UK 'competent authority' to ensure that proposals by the managing bodies of airports or by a public authority for operating restrictions (but not the other elements of the balanced approach) at an airport are consistent with the requirements of Annex 2 of the proposed Directive, and to be responsible for other matters within the scope of the Directive."

  3.10  Document (b) seeks to improve the effectiveness of levying noise charges on aircraft at airports by basing them on the certificated noise levels of aircraft as measured under the ICAO "Chapter 3" noise certification requirements. In his Explanatory Memorandum of 6 February, the Minister summarises the requirements of the proposed common framework for the calculation of noise charges as:

"—  any such noise charges (as defined by the proposed Directive) at airports within the Community to be proportional to the relative noise impact of arrivals and departures for populations around airports;

  • the noise energies at arrival and departure in turn to be based upon the noise performance of aircraft at the noise certification points in ICAO Annex 16 'Chapter 3' (the most stringent current noise certification standard);

  • the ratio between the highest and lowest noise charge in any given time period to be no greater than 20:1;

  • the common framework to be applied from 1 April 2003 in the case of newly introduced systems of noise charges or where there is a significant revision of an existing charge system and from 1 April 2006 in all cases; and

  • the proposed calculation method allows airport­specific parameters to be taken into account."

The Government's view

  3.11  As regards document (a), the Minister sets out the Government's view in his Explanatory Memorandum of 17 January 2002:

    "The UK supports the work of ICAO to tackle aeroplane noise and environmental problems at source, and recognises the desirability of dealing with such issues at an international level to ensure comparability of treatment.

    "The Government also recognises that noise is a problem — especially at some of the UK's larger airports, and that current projections indicate that the noise climate is likely to worsen (albeit after a long period of general improvement at long established major airports) rather than improve due to increases in air traffic after the noisiest 'Chapter 2' aircraft are withdrawn from service. Therefore it supports internationally agreed action to reduce aircraft noise.

    "We estimate that the UK has more airports — as defined in the proposed Directive — that will be subject to the new procedures than any other member state. Some of these airports will create significant noise problems for sizeable populations, and some will not, and it is not clear which UK airports may apply for 'operating restrictions' to be introduced. Although the proposed Directive deals specifically with operating restrictions, the methodology to be used when assessing whether operating restrictions are necessary involves assessment of 'other measures', which in practice means the range of options embraced by the ICAO 'balanced approach' concept. The proposed Directive will therefore impose a standardised procedure on UK airports based, somewhat imperfectly, on the ICAO balanced approach.

    "The UK supported the Hushkit Regulation. The proposed Directive could allow the continued use of some of hushkitted aircraft at airports that do not consider themselves to have a noise problem. However, article 6 of the proposed Directive would also allow a complete ban on the operation of these aircraft at noise­sensitive airports whereas the Hushkit Regulation (if it stood instead) permits the continued operation of existing services by these aircraft types.

    "The proposed Directive requires the setting up of a 'competent authority in each member state to oversee its implementation. No guidance is offered as to the nature of this competent authority, except that it must be 'independent'. and its relationship with national governments and airport operators is unclear. Funding arrangements for the new authority are also not addressed, for example whether it can recover its costs through charges to the aviation industry. Many member states raised concerns about the competent authority at a meeting to discuss the proposed Directive on 10 January 2002. A senior Commission official stated that he did not envisage member states setting up special new bodies and acknowledged that further consideration was needed.

    "A further uncertainty is whether the proposed Directive would prevent the introduction of operating restrictions at the behest of national governments, either at individual airports or more broadly. Whilst recognising the importance of an airport by airport approach, the UK Government regards the flexibility to develop a national framework for handling aircraft noise as an important policy tool.

    "The wider environmental and economic impacts of the proposed Directive are harder to predict compared to the Hushkits Regulation. The impacts are dependent on the number of airports in the UK and elsewhere within the EU which seek to introduce operational restrictions under the Directive and the knock­on effect this may have on aircraft operators with non­compliant aircraft in their fleets.

    "In summary, key issues of concern for the Government about the proposed Directive are:

  • the possible removal of flexibility to develop national frameworks for dealing with the noise impacts of aviation;

  • the establishment of the new competent authority, with a potential confusion of roles and responsibilities;

  • the imposition of a fixed methodology for assessing noise mitigation measures, that might limit the scope for flexible and creative solutions to noise problems around airports.

    "However, the proposed Directive potentially provides a means to resolve the dispute between the EU and the US over the Hushkits Regulation, and preserves the ability for action to be taken against marginally compliant 'Chapter 3' aircraft The proposed Directive may therefore become more acceptable to the Government if appropriate amendments are made."

  3.12  As regards the proposal for noise-related charges, the Minister says:

    "Responsibility for noise-management at UK airports rests with the airport operator, although the Government has statutory powers to designate an airport for environmental purposes (and has used these powers at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted). The proposed Directive would require noise charges (as defined by the Directive) to be based on certain criteria. For those airports in the UK which currently have noise-related charges, it is anticipated that changes would be required to their regimes, although the proposed framework does permit a degree of local discretion in the design of such charges. No changes would in any case be required before 2003; and in many cases potentially not before 2006. Crucially, the Directive would not require the introduction of noise charges at any airports.

    "Although the Government supports the principle of using economic instruments such as noise charges in certain circumstances some aspects of the proposal need further consideration.

  • the extent to which Community legislation is necessary in addition to existing ICAO rules and standards in this field (to which all EU Member States subscribe) and, to the extent that the proposal goes beyond existing ICAO rules and standards, it needs to be demonstrated that a common framework for noise-charging is necessary and will have significant benefits over having different regimes at individual airports as now;

  • whether the proposed aircraft classification system is compatible with one based on the banding of aircraft such as is used at several UK airports, including Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted;

  • whether this proposed Directive could affect the ability of States to implement tax policy in which case a number of related concerns might arise;

  • There are also some technical deficiencies, which we would hope to rectify if the proposal progresses."


  3.13  Aircraft noise is a highly sensitive issue for many people, especially around major airports. The objective of reducing noise levels is to be welcomed.

  3.14  In document (a), the Commission has proposed harmonised rules and procedures for the introduction of operational restrictions, including the phasing-out of aircraft that only marginally comply with the current standards on noise. We note that a major objective of the proposal is to provide a way of overcoming US objections to the Hushkits Regulation which banned certain categories of noisy aircraft. At present, it is unclear whether the Hushkits Regulation or the current proposed Directive will result in less aircraft noise. The effect of the proposed Directive will depend upon how many airports introduce operating restrictions.

  3.15  There is a wide range of opinion on the merits of the proposed Directive. Although the Government's Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) is sceptical of some of the alleged benefits, it nevertheless recognises that "the proposed Directive might achieve its objective of preventing an increase in the number of people seriously affected by aircraft noise at those airports that are subject to the proposed Directive and which choose to take environmental action in the light of it." The RIA also recognises that the effect of the proposal on UK industry is likely to be small. As regards night flights, we note that the proposed Directive would ensure that proposals for any new operating restrictions would be subject to rigorous assessment, including cost-benefit analysis.

  3.16  We also note that the Commission and the Government disagree on the matter of subsidiarity. The Commission takes the view that its proposed Directive on noise-related restrictions at individual airports is compatible with the principle of subsidiarity. The Government argues that "the proposed Directive would extend EC competence into how Member States deal with aircraft noise at their airports, either directly or by delegating such decisions to local level." For our part, we consider that on balance there is probably a case for European involvement in regulating noise-related restrictions at individual airports. We are mindful of the intense competition between some major airports and the potential threat that such pressures can pose to the environment, especially by encouraging airports to permit excessive noise as a way of competing unfairly.

  3.17  In document (b), the Commission has proposed a system for calculating noise-related charges on aircraft at airports. We note that the Commission proposal does not require the introduction of such charges. We consider that noise-related airport charges can be an effective way of reducing aircraft noise and encouraging the use of the least noisy aircraft. We also note that the Government has used its statutory powers to impose noise-related charges at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.

  3.18  We consider that, in the interests of the environment, fair competition between airports and airlines and transparency, there is a strong case for establishing a framework within which decisions relating to noise-restrictions and noise-related charges could be determined, as set out in the document.

  3.19  In order to provide Members with an opportunity to pursue such issues, we have decided to recommend both documents for debate in European Standing Committee A.

3  In June 2001, the ICAO Council adopted formally a new and lower noise standard. Back

4   Annex 16 of the Chicago Convention (as amended) provides a series of standards for the certification of aircraft noise as determined by ICAO rules and procedures.  Back

5   Although the Regulation was originally intended to come into effect on 1 May 1999, the Council and Parliament agreed to a one-year postponement to allow resolution of US concerns.  Back

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