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David Taylor: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that night noise from the heavens can make airports neighbours from hell. However, there has been relatively little academic analysis of the economic benefits of night flights. The aviation industry often asserts that they are crucial and an important economic driver, but precious little evidence has been cited in support of that. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is high time that an independent organisation conducted research along those lines?
I urge hon. Members to support new clause 6. If the Bill is implemented, my constituents and those of many hon. Members will deserve mitigation. The wording of new clause 6 might not be correct, and I know that the Government do not like to agree to any amendments except their ownthat is the way of the world. However, they are honour bound to provide in legislation for mitigation of noise reduction for my constituents.
Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): I shall be brief. I could have made my remarks by intervening during the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), but he had to cope with a large number of interventions and I did not want to disrupt his speech any more than was necessary. None the less, I was astonished when he said that noise was lessening. Biggin Hill airport, the famous airfield from which many of the few flew in the second world war, is in my constituency. It now deals largely not with scheduled flights, but executive flights and so forth. Although I accept that many individual aeroplanes are much quieter than they were, we must consider the sheer multiplicity and expansion of ordinary flights to small airports such as Biggin Hill.
Many flights are taking place on the shoulder of the times at which they are allowed to take place. Many flights requiring special permission are undertaken by the Ministry of Defence. More flights take place at a lower level than they used to, with flights over Biggin Hill being affected by the change to the pattern of flights over Heathrow. All those factors mean that my constituents have experienced a considerable increase in the noise around such a typical small airfield.
My Front-Bench colleagues have made the important point that there is inadequate monitoring, so we simply do not know enough about the facts of noiseI accept that the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley made this point. There are doubts about who should take responsibility for monitoring noise at Biggin Hill. Should it be the local authority or the airport company? Monitoring inevitably does not take place with the frequency that ordinary people and residents are entitled to expect. Additionally, they cannot be
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confident in such monitoring. On those grounds alone, my hon. Friends would be absolutely right to press new clause 4 to a Division.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Ms Karen Buck): The amendments, like the many that we debated in Committee, reflect an overall concern about how the Government's policies on airport development, including airspace change and the mitigation of aircraft noise and emissions, play out in practice.
As everyone in the Chamber knows, the purpose of the "Future of Air Transport" White Paper was to set out a strategic framework for the development of air travel in the United Kingdom, looking ahead to 2030. That forward planning was intended, in part, to give people living near to airports some clarity about how their local circumstances might change in future and to enable planning to deal with the environmental impacts of air transport. We do not deny that such impacts exist, although advances in technology have delivered quieter aircraft and noise abatement operational processes, such as continuous descent approach, have been developed. Both those points came out strongly from the characteristically excellent speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) and for Crawley (Laura Moffatt). Night noise and daytime contours have been maintained, or even reduced, at some major airports, despite the growth in movement numbers. I hope that we all realise that such growth is not just about an abstract of economic benefit, but about real jobs and wealth and maintaining the UK's competitiveness.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made a good point when he rightly advised us to end the false division between those who support a healthy aviation industry and those who are concerned with sustainability. Everyone who is sensible should want to strike a proper balance between those objectives, even if there is sometimes disagreement among or within parties about how that would be best done. My concern with the way in which such debates play out in practice is more with individuals who understandably make points on behalf of their constituencies and are unwilling to consider the regional and national economic interest or to engage maturely in discussion about how best to deliver real improvements.
Mr. Brazier: On striking that balance, I would be most grateful if the Minister would clarify which side of the argumentthe aviation industry or the environmentalistssupports the Government's view that Stansted should have the next expansion.
Ms Buck: With respect, we are not discussing the "Future of Air Transport" White Paper, but the Civil Aviation Bill. The White Paper set out the framework for airport expansion throughout the country, but I am not sure that this is the time or place to reopen that debate.
I shall start what I think will be a fairly detailed contributionso detailed, in fact, that it will make the collected Proust look like a short storyby saying a
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little about Nottingham East Midlands airport because the concerns of hon. Members from in and around the area served by it have been at the forefront of our debates on Second Reading, in Committee and today. NEMA has been held up as an example of why the Government should not trust airport operators to deal with noise complaints themselves. However, I shall first discuss the general principles of new clause 4.
I have some sympathy with the aim of identifying aircraft for the purpose of responding to noise complaints. I understand the frustration that people may feel when it is not possible to identify a plane that has disturbed them, although that is generally unlikely to be due to a lack of will on an airport's part. It might be helpful if I recap for hon. Members who were not Committee members the availability of flight data and where the data are held. There is no single comprehensive source of information and no complete record of all flights.
Most large airports, such as the London airports and NEMA, operate a noise and track-keeping system. That is specific to the airport's movements and is usually limited to a range of approximately 25 miles. Complainants can call or write to an airport with details of the date and time when they were disturbed. The airport can then provide details, such as the height of the aircraft, its operator and its destination. As most commercial aircraft fly at their lowest, and are thus at their loudest, on approach and departure, most complaints relate to aircraft within an airport's noise and track-keeping system.
There is a competitive market for air traffic control service provision at airports. National Air Traffic Services is responsible for providing en-route air traffic control for flights in corridors from 5,000 ft up to 24,500 ft, 20 miles from their arrival and departure airports. All air traffic control providers are responsible for providing that service for those flights that operate only in controlled airspace, which is made up of terminal control areas surrounding the major airports and airways that link the control areas.
Air traffic control providers may retain radar records for 30 days to facilitate the investigation of incidents. It would take them some time to do individual checks if asked to do so, and they could only provide height information. If available, they might be able to say what the destination and point of departure had been, but they would not be able to identify the operator or aircraft type. It would be up to the person complaining to have sufficient information on the incident in question and to ask for the information promptly.
However, flights in uncontrolled airspace are not compelled to receive an air traffic control service. Nor are they required to notify the flight for the purpose of receiving permission to fly in such airspace. Consequently, flight data are often not available for such flights. Nor is it easy to estimate aircraft heights accurately, even for trained observers. An aircraft that might be assumed to have come from a particular airport may have come from elsewhere and be flying much higher than the observer believes. It may seem to complainants that an airport does not try hard enough to identify the aircraft that disturbs them or is too quick to say that it is not one of theirs, but there is no
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guarantee that a central inquiry point, such as the commercial flights officer, would be any more successful or responsive.
I recognise local concerns about aircraft noise in the area of NEMA, which is at the heart of the set of complaints. My DepartmentMinisters and officials alikeis ensuring that all reasonable action is taken by the airport and its operators to reduce noise at its source and to mitigate its effects. The airport is now fully committed to responding effectively. It knows that it needs to be a considerate neighbour to local residents. It is to undertake a comprehensive review of its complaints procedures; it is recruiting staff for a new customer relations department to improve the speed and quality of its handling of complaints; and it plans a new noise compensation scheme.
Operational performance at NEMA has significantly improved, and track-keeping compliancethe extent to which departing aircraft keep to routes designed to minimise their noise impact on people belowis at almost 100 per cent.
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