Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The Campaign to Protect Rural England

  1.  CPRE welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Committee's inquiry into the work of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). With rising levels of air traffic, the work of the corporation is gaining even greater significance. We believe the inquiry provides a timely opportunity to consider whether the legislation establishing the corporation, as amended, is consistent with today's challenges. Our submission focuses on the role of the CAA, and how it interacts with interested parties.


  2.  The CAA was established more than 30 years ago, and has been primarily concerned with the regulation of airspace in order to address the needs of airspace users. At that time, the concept of sustainable development had not been invented. And while the needs of airlines and others remain important, we believe the remit of the CAA should be re-examined in the light of the Government's Sustainable Development Strategy, and increasing evidence of the contribution of aviation to climate change. The Sustainable Development Strategy commits the Government to assess whether a specific sustainable development duty should be applied to existing key bodies in priority areas" (page 157).

  3.  Although the CAA does have some environmental responsibilities and a sustainable development and aviation environmental policy statement, these have tended to be seen as subservient to its primary objectives. For example, we note that when the Department for Transport consulted on amending the CAA's responsibilities in relation to noise in 2000, there was resistance from the CAA to widening its brief. The DfT summary of consultation responses to its Control of Noise from Civil Aircraft consultation said, in relation to Section 5 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982:

        Section 5 empowers the Secretary of State to place a duty on the CAA to take environmental factors (including noise and emissions) into account when licensing an aerodrome specified for the purpose...The CAA had strongly favoured repeal of section 5, with a view to maintaining the single focus of its aerodrome standards department upon safety regulation".

  4.  According to the CAA's Annual Report 2005, none of the 12 directors have an environmental remit. Furthermore, the corporation has a financial reliance on airline companies. The Annual Report notes, the majority of the CAA's income is derived from charges levied for its regulatory work, with the charge in many areas based upon the physical movement of aircraft or passengers. It has been reassuring to see sustained growth in the key activity measures continuing on from the encouraging growth in volumes that were experienced last year" (page 16). This risks generating a conflict of interest with its environmental responsibilities. We urge the Committee to examine how the CAA, as a Regulator, can be made to be more independent of those that it seeks to regulate.

  5.  The Government has said that sustainable development principles are central to its policies on air transport. If true, then it is important that regulators are given duties which are consistent with this approach. CPRE believes the CAA should be placed under a new statutory duty to promote environmentally sustainable development. Existing duties should be reviewed to ensure they remain consistent with this new duty.


  6.  The Government's Sustainable Development Strategy contains five guiding principles, including `living within environmental limits'. While fundamentally CPRE believes this recognition should lead to a full review of the Air Transport White Paper, the current position leaves Regulators like the CAA in a difficult position. They should examine the environmental implications of their activities (for example the impact of aircraft noise on urban and rural communities), yet do not seem to be in a position to question the desirability or otherwise of meeting the air traffic forecasts. This means that their actions are quickly relegated to mitigating for environmental damage rather than avoiding it in the first place. We believe the CAA should perform an important role in providing a feedback loop to Government by reporting on how aircraft movements are affecting environmental limits. This is likely to require a more sophisticated approach than simply devising maps of community annoyance. CPRE also believes the CAA's Sustainable development and aviation environmental policy statement, which reflects the previous Sustainable Development Strategy and is unambitious, should be updated.


  7.  The environmental impact of aviation is not just found at, or in the vicinity of airports. Apart from the crucial contribution of aviation to increasing climate change emissions, the noise and visual impact of air movements also needs to be considered further afield. The CAA fed into the consultation prior to the publication of the Air Transport White Paper. Yet, there appears not to have been an overview provided of what the likely implications might be for air traffic management from a significant increase in air passenger numbers. Changes to the height and location of flight paths and stacking areas are made on a piecemeal basis, preventing a proper assessment of the cumulative impact of the changes required.

  8.  The CAA's Annual Report 2005, notes that The Directorate is continuing to assess the implications of the Aviation White Paper. Directorate of Airspace Policy (DAP) anticipates significant and fundamental changes to airspace boundaries and procedures in the Midlands and Southern England ...." (pages 43-44). The report goes on to explain that Proposals from users flowing from the White Paper will initiate a review of specific airspace and adjoining areas ... Councils, environmental groups and individuals have already expressed great interest in potential changes" (page 44). Yet, there was no public consultation over the CAA Airspace Review" prior to the Aviation White Paper being published, and no commitments have been made to examine this issue in the round, rather than on a piecemeal basis. We urge the Committee to consider the value of full public consultation of the CAA's Airspace Policy, as a whole, in the light of the policies in the Aviation White Paper.


  9.  In 2002 the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions published guidance to the CAA on how it should treat environmental considerations in undertaking its activities. This included the specific requirement that the Directorate of Airspace Policy (DAP) pursue policies that will help to preserve the tranquillity of the countryside where this does not increase significantly the environmental burdens on congested areas" (paragraph 46).

  10.  CPRE is critical of the manner with which the CAA has responded to this requirement. The assessments which are undertaken of the effects of changes in flight paths are developed entirely on the basis of the impact on designated areas (National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty). Yet, the presence and the value people place on the tranquillity of the countryside is not confined to designated areas. The recent consultation on changes to flight paths in the South West, for example, highlighted the effect on eight AONBs and the Brecon Beacons National Park, but not on the countryside between these areas. The tranquillity of the countryside is one of the key qualities which differentiates it from urban areas. We urge the Committee to investigate how the CAA aims to protect the tranquillity of the wider countryside.

  11.  The CAA also uses the same 57dB(A) leq measure as the Government to assess the onset of community annoyance". Based on averages, such figures fail to appreciate the intrusion caused by noise from one-off events in sensitive environments with low levels of background noise. The threshold has also been established following research which predominantly concerned urban areas, where there is a higher background level of noise. The CAA's own consultation paper, NATs/MoD Joint Future Airspace Development Team West End Airspace Change Proposal Consultation 2005, recognises that the evidence suggests that at low levels aircraft noise measurement is not a good predicator of the degree of annoyance". The World Health Organisation recommends that 50dB(A) be used as the threshold above which community annoyance is likely.

  12.  Work undertaken by respected consultants TRL for CPRE, Aviation, Noise and the Countryside, highlights that some people will still be affected by exposure to noise at lower levels. CPRE believes there is an urgent need to commission work examining the impact of infrequent noise incursions on tranquil environments, and to re-evaluate the implications of air traffic growth in the light of this. In the meantime, maps of 50dB(A) contours should be produced to indicate clearly the number of people and areas likely to be affected.


  13.  A common frustration experienced by CPRE volunteers has been the inaccessibility of the information held by the CAA, and its arrangements for consultation. This is illustrated in a number of ways, which cumulatively give the impression of a corporation that is not accountable to the public, and yet which makes key decisions affecting people's quality of life.

  14.  The CAA publishes a series of guidance notes. CAP 725 covers Airspace Change Process Guidance. This advises that sponsors of changes to flight paths are generally not required to consult on an environmental statement for proposals above 7,000 ft. A sponsor of a flight path change may appeal if the proposed change is turned down by the CAA, yet no equivalent exists for members of the public should it lead to unacceptable harm to their quality of life. And the National Air Traffic Management and Advisory Committee (NATMAC), the main ongoing consultative mechanism on these issues, comprises airlines and users groups amongst its membership but has no environmental representation. CPRE believes the CAA needs to demonstrate its independence from the airlines and other users if it is to secure confidence amongst the public in its consultation processes.


  15.  The work of the CAA is extremely important in ensuring public safety. A massive increase in passenger numbers could lead to significant congestion in the skies, and yet we have no effective overview of what the implications are. Current arrangements for protecting the tranquillity of the countryside from air traffic noise are inadequate. We believe there is an important role for the CAA, provided with new statutory duties, enhanced consultation requirements, and improved assessment processes, to contribute towards a genuinely sustainable air transport policy.

November 2005

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