Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The Centre for Air Transport and the Environment, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Manchester Metropolitan University


  1.1  The Centre for Air Transport and the Environment was established within the Manchester Metropolitan University to contribute to the attainment of sustainable aviation growth through research and knowledge transfer between the academic, industry, regulatory and NGO sectors. The Centre's work focuses on the principal environmental impacts associated with aviation and their ability to constrain airport and airline growth.

  1.2  In this paper we consider the environmental issues of concern, the nature of the CAA's current engagement with them and provide comments on the relevant issues the Committee wishes to consider as outlined in its Press Notice updated on 24 October 2005.


  2.1  Aviation is playing an increasingly important role in the social and economic development of the UK. Demand is strong and growing. The social and economic benefits of meeting that demand are significant, but so too are the environmental costs. The rate of growth in demand is outstripping the environmental benefits offered by new technologies and operating practices with the result that the key environmental impacts of the industry could increase in the future, a trend that is unsustainable in the longer term.

  2.2  This is significant because:

    —  at a local level noise, air quality and biodiversity issues are starting to constrain the operational capacity and growth of airports; and

    —  at a Global level, the implications of aviation for climate change is becoming an increasing concern, leading to calls for constraints on growth. Meanwhile the forecast supply and cost of aviation fuel will demand ongoing and significant improvements in fuel efficiency if these factors are not to restrict growth.

  2.3  There is, therefore a direct link between the way in which aviation addresses its environmental impacts, its potential for future growth and its ability to contribute to social and economic development. A recent study has shown that about Û of medium and larger European airports already face actual or potential environmental capacity constraints, with almost 80% anticipating such restrictions within the decade. This is potentially a significant loss of capacity within the European Air Transport System.

  2.4  Growing demand will generate requirements for more capacity both at airports and within en route sectors. However it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve planning approval for additional airport infrastructure either as a result of the environmental implications of the construction itself or the additional traffic that would arise from it. Further, community opposition is making it more difficult to release en-route capacity through airspace changes.


  3.1  The UK CAA is the independent regulator for civil aviation in the UK. Its objectives, as detailed in Section 4 of the Civil Aviation Act are to:

        secure that British airlines provide air transport services which satisfy all potential categories of public demand (so far as British airlines may reasonably be expected to provide such services) at the lowest charges consistent with a high standard of safety in operating the services and an economic return to efficient operators on the sums invested in providing the services and with securing the sound development of the civil air transport industry of the United Kingdom and to further the reasonable interests of users of air transport services.

  3.2  It also has a duty (under Section 5 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982) to consider environmental factors when licensing certain aerodromes and, under Section 70(2)(d) of the Transport Act 2000, to take account of guidance on environmental objectives given by the Secretary of State, when carrying out its air navigation functions. As yet, no airport has ever been specified under Section 5 of the 1982 Act and therefore the CAA has never had to exercise this duty.

  3.3  The Department for Transport acts as the regulator in respect of the aviation environment regulation with the CAA providing a technical and policy advisory role. In January 2002 the DfT issued Guidance to the CAA on Environmental Objectives Relating to the Exercise of its Air Navigation Functions. This reinforced the need to take account of the environmental consequences of aviation whilst ensuring safety and expedition of air traffic.

  3.4  The CAA therefore has an implicit, as well as explicit role in supporting the sustainable growth of UK aviation. This means supporting the Government's efforts to enable achievement of the correct balance between air transport growth and environmental protection.

  3.5  In the very recent past, the role of the UK-CAA in relation to ICAO certification procedures relating to safety, noise and aircraft emissions has been passed to the European Aviation Safety Association (EASA) reflecting the organisations growing international and EU engagement.

  3.6  Meanwhile the Environmental Research and Consultancy Department (ERCD), part of the Directorate of Airspace Policy (DAP) within the CAA continues to carry out research and provide technical support regarding the environmental impacts of aviation, airspace policy and airspace changes.

Aircraft Noise

  3.7  The ERCD's primary focus is the management, monitoring and modelling of the aircraft noise exposure. ERCD provides technical support on such matters to the DfT, airport operators and local planning authorities and is working at an international level to secure harmonisation of noise modelling systems.

  3.8  Despite improvements in aircraft technology, the disturbance caused by noise remains aviations single most significant local environmental impact. Modelling indicates that across the UK, several hundred thousand people are adversely affected by aircraft noise on a daily basis and forecasts indicate these figures could increase. The response of people to aircraft noise and their tolerance of the resulting disturbance is, however, a matter of lifestyle and perception and is affected by a wide variety of socio-economic factors associated with expectation of quality of life and an understanding or enjoyment of the benefits of air transport.

  3.9  Community attitudes and the numbers of people affected varies significantly at airports across the UK with the result that with the exception of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, where the Secretary of State for Transport has taken responsibility for aircraft noise, Government policy is that noise issues need to be addressed at a local level with the proviso that under Section 78 and 79 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 the Secretary of State has the reserve power" to intervene and impose direct control where issues cannot be resolved locally.

  3.10  Noise related operational charges and penalties can be employed to promote use of the quietest aircraft and encourage pilots to fly them in such a manner as to minimise disturbance on the ground. The economic aspects of such environmental management tools, particularly for airports whose charges are regulated, can fall within the sphere of interest of the CAA-Economic Regulation Group (ERG).

  3.11  The ERCD enjoys international recognition for its work in the field of aircraft noise, it is highly respected by all airport stakeholders (including environmental NGO's and academic groups) for its expertise and independence. In this context it plays a very valuable role supporting both Government and industry alike to achieve the appropriate balance between development and environmental protection at a local level.

Local Air Quality

  3.12  ERCD has also developed more limited expertise and knowledge on local air quality, sufficient to provide internal advise to the CAA and comment to the DfT. The DfT however secures most of its resource in this field from external organisations. In part, the lack of a more active role in this field reflects the fact that local air quality is a function of not only the air transport industry but also road traffic emissions and emissions from other industries.

  3.13  The emergence in the recent past of emissions related charges at UK airports has implications in the context of the work of the CAA-ERG.

Climate Change

  3.14  The ERG is engaged with the emerging aviation emissions trading scheme in Europe and is providing advice on this matter to both the DfT and Treasury.

Landscape and Habitat Issues

  3.15  The need to protect, conserve or even enhance habitat and biodiversity can act as a constraint upon airport growth. Sensitive sites on airport or in surrounding areas can be of considerable ecological value, particularly where the airport is located in a green belt. The ability of an airport to extend its boundaries or even build upon parts of its own land can be restricted by the value of the habitats threatened. Mitigation is possible but such action has the potential to attract birds that can pose a risk to aircraft safety.

  3.16  The apparent conflict between aviation safety and the need to protect or enhance biodiversity has featured at Manchester, Stansted and Heathrow airports. While this lies within the remit of the CAA Safety Regulation Group, each airport has responsibility for managing its risk of birdstrike (subsequent to Joint Circular 1/2003 on Aerodrome Safeguarding). The requirement to ensure safe operations can bring the airport and SRG into direct conflict with the statutory body responsible for nature conservation in the UK (English Nature) which has acknowledged this issue in a recent publication (Aerodrome Safeguarding and Nature Conservation" Birds Network, Information Note).

  3.17  This is another area where the UK (the UK-CAA and other organisations such as the Central Science Laboratories in York) are internationally recognised for their expertise in the field.

Land Use Planning

  3.18  The CAA is providing technical support to the DfT assisting revision of planning guidance PPG24. Land use planning to prevent inappropriate developments in the vicinity of airports and their approach and departure routes can be used with air space planning to minimise the number of people exposed to aircraft noise and third party risk, thereby protecting future airport capacity.


  4.1  Environmental issues have, over the past 10-20 years, come to have an increasing impact upon the growth and development of aviation and it is acknowledged in the Future of Air Transport" that this will continue, not the least because of the rapid growth of the industry.

  4.2  Although the regulation of aviation environmental impacts falls within the remit of the Department for Transport, the Department places considerable reliance upon the well established work of the CAA's ERCD in respect of the technical issues associated with the management, measurement and modelling of aircraft noise.

  4.3  As the costs of the environmental impacts of aviation are internalised (eg through noise and emissions charges, emissions trading regimes) this will have implications for the CAA's Economic Regulation Group.

  4.4  This paper has highlighted a potential conflict between the need to protect biodiversity and aviation safety. While safety can never be compromised, a balance still has to be found between environmental protection and aviation growth within the context of sustainable development. The CAA Safety Regulation Group has a role in ensuring the correct balance is achieved.

  4.5  Following the emergence of environmental capacity constraints within the air transport system and the increasing costs of managing such issues, it is evident that environment is likely to become the biggest business risk to the future growth of UK aviation, impacting both locally and globally. The UK-CAA can continue to play an independent advisory role, taking account of the effects of growth and highlighting and supporting the adoption of policies that promote sustainable development. It will therefore be important that it continues to develop it's own environmental expertise across a variety of disciplines.

11 January 2006

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