Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-251)

Wednesday 11 June 2003


  Q240  Mr Challen: Yes.

  Mr Wiltshire: On the other counts we have a good track record and I believe we can deal with the local air quality issue that is coming out of the European regulations. Global warming is best dealt with at international level. Linked to that is the fact that taxation on aviation fuel is regulated, if you like, by international agreements and it would be counterproductive if the United Kingdom, for example, slapped a tax on aviation fuel. You would find tankering going on which is a methodology of minimising the pick-up of fuel at, say, an expensive place and that would worsen global warming.

  Q241  Mr Challen: We have seen that with the lorry drivers' protest a few years ago. How about introducing domestically some form of taxes and charges? Would you oppose that as well?

  Mr Wiltshire: We believe we should be treated the same as any other public transport mode. We are certainly not against rail substitution and if rail can come along with the wherewithal to deliver that is fine. We believe passengers need choice. We also believe some air passengers are travelling by air to connect to the rest of the world so that is where having a globally competitive hub at Heathrow is vital for the United Kingdom.

  Ms Tamms: I realise it is human nature to want to do everything as quickly as possible but sometimes you get the greatest environmental benefits if you spread those things over time and allow the industry to adjust accordingly and minimise the costs associated with doing so. You still get to the environmental targets at the end by taking the longer view; it just takes a bit longer.

  Q242  Mr Challen: I can see it is a long haul but it is that slight lack of urgency that seems to be the problem. Have you, along with many other sectors in the European Union, developed an environmental strategy, for example?

  Mr Wiltshire: We have not as a United Kingdom trade association. It is very much on the agenda and something we are discussing with other parts of aerospace. I think it is important to recognise we need to work closely with manufacturers and they need to work closely with government to get the right framework. We fly the aircraft, the manufacturers produce them, and they are in turn producing aircraft based on their knowledge of what international government regulation will be in years to come, so it is important to get the connection right between perhaps all three groups and I sense that is the way things will go eventually. I cannot report any specific progress today but I would hope we would move in that direction in years to come.

  Q243  Mr Ainsworth: You may have heard that I was asking BAA about what thought they had given to extending the noise charging regime to cover emissions, and they said they had approached your industry and had not been bowled over with the enthusiasm of your response. Did they approach your companies, and what was your response if they did?

  Ms Tamms: BAA gave the impression that discussion was on-going—I think that is being a bit polite about it. They did approach us and we said "No" to taxes and charges but "Yes" to doing something about the environmental consequences of aviation.

  Q244  Mr Ainsworth: Presumably you said "No" to noise charging when they first raised that one?

  Ms Tamms: Noise charging is already in effect at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.

  Q245  Mr Ainsworth: I know, but presumably you said "No" originally. It was a long time ago but nobody is going to say "Yes" in a hurry I guess to any measure of this kind?

  Ms Tamms: I honestly have not been around long enough to answer that question.

  Q246  Mr Ainsworth: Did they approach Monarch?

  Mr Smith: I am not aware. This is not directly my area and it is not a conversation I have had with anybody else.

  Q247  Mr Ainsworth: So there is no continuing dialogue about emission charging, as far as you are aware, contrary to what we were told earlier this afternoon?

  Mr Smith: It could be it is going on but the industry is divided up into specific areas and I would imagine that that may well come under the general scheme of airport charges which I am no longer actively involved in.

  Mr Wiltshire: The first has been on Heathrow which is why Heathrow airlines and Virgin Atlantic have been involved. What is happening on air quality is that there is a joint activity between the airlines, the airport and local councils around Heathrow, to improve their understanding of the problem of local air quality and to improve measuring, monitoring and much better modelling, as was described earlier by BAA. We believe that is the way forward. I think it is precipitate and too early to design an economic instrument when you do not understand the nature of the problem we are trying to address.

  Q248  Mr Ainsworth: So you would support what BAA said about commissioning new independent research about the air quality issues raised and the cirrus effects?

  Mr Wiltshire: Yes, and the work going on today down at Heathrow would contribute to such a study.

  Ms Tamms: I think BAA feel that imposing such an emissions charge at, for example, Heathrow would be seen as doing something meaningful towards the environment, and Virgin Atlantic does not agree with that because it is difficult to take decisions pertaining to aircraft fleets with such schemes. It is very important to understand the nature of the problem before we start imposing solutions to it and that has come a long way. As I understand it, BAA and BA have been measuring local air quality around Heathrow. There is only six months' worth of data available at this stage but the results are quite encouraging and show that even with a third runway at Heathrow, given improvements in aircraft technology that are currently being developed by the manufacturers, EU limits that are coming into force in 2010 could be consistently met. However, it would also take some work at the local level because of course a primary contributor, indeed probably the main one, to NOx levels around Heathrow is road traffic from petrol driven vehicles.

  Q249  Mr Ainsworth: Yes but, going back to the very first point made this afternoon by Mr Chaytor about whether or not you were in danger of becoming a pariah industry, I would have thought it would have been in your interest to consider a little more carefully whether an emissions charging regime could do something to encourage cleaner use of aircraft, the development of clean aircraft, and to penalise those which are not doing the right thing by the environment.

  Mr Wiltshire: We believe there will be discussions of that as part of the broader issue of how to deal with the local air quality issue and until we know more, and that work is going on actively as we speak, it is inappropriate to talk of an economic instrument when there are many other solutions, or solutions that will contribute, to a basket of solutions for that particular problem.

  Q250  Mr Chaytor: Finally, to clarify the issue on fuel efficiency of the fleet that you mentioned earlier, does this apply uniformly across all airlines, or is it not the case that the big expansion recently of low cost airlines on short European trips is built on the back of older airlines that have simply been resprayed?

  Mr Wiltshire: Could you just clarify that?

  Q251  Mr Chaytor: Your argument is that there has been consistent improvement in fuel efficiency of the fleet overall. I am asking whether that is the case over all airlines, or have not the new airlines, the easyJets and the Ryanairs that now no longer exist because they have merged, managed to get the low cost market going on the back of using older planes that they simply resprayed? Is not the biggest growth area in the market dependent on older, less fuel efficient planes?

  Mr Smith: My immediate answer is no. In the very early stages for one or two of those you mentioned possibly that is the case but witness the order by certainly easyJet of a very large number of modern aircraft. They rely very heavily, as we all do, on leading edge technology. In the case of Virgin and every United Kingdom carrier we cannot get better equipment in the market. At the risk of a intransigent, part of the problem we face is understanding where we are expected to be. I say that by virtue of a couple of instances which have come to mind for us, technological developments which have occurred or are about to occur which are focused at solving particular problems but have adverse effects in other areas, specifically the Airbus A 380 which has been optimised to develop a lower noise footprint but the off-set is the 2% fuel consumption off optimum, and the same is true with aircraft developed specifically for an emissions regime put in place in Switzerland. Likewise the fuel consumption of engines that were specifically designed to cope with the emissions charge have a 2 % reduction on the optimum fuel consumption, so I think we need to know as an industry what our targets are and just where we need to focus in on.

  Chairman: Thank you. I am sorry we have gone over time but I think that indicates the interest there is in the subject and the topicality of it at the moment. Thank you very much.

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