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House of Commons
Session 2007 - 08
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General Committee Debates
European Standing Committee A Debates

Single European Sky II and Aviation Safety

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Joe Benton
Betts, Mr. Clive (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab)
Brazier, Mr. Julian (Canterbury) (Con)
Cunningham, Tony (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
Flello, Mr. Robert (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab)
Hill, Keith (Streatham) (Lab)
Hollobone, Mr. Philip (Kettering) (Con)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle) (LD)
Leech, Mr. John (Manchester, Withington) (LD)
Steen, Mr. Anthony (Totnes) (Con)
Stringer, Graham (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab)
Wright, Jeremy (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con)
Hannah Weston, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

European Committee A

Tuesday 7 October 2008

[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

Single European Sky II and Aviation Safety

4.30 pm
The Chairman: I call a member of the European Scrutiny Committee to make a brief explanatory statement.
Keith Hill (Streatham) (Lab): It is, as ever, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. It might help the Committee if I explain briefly the background to these documents and the reasons why the European Scrutiny Committee recommended them for debate in the European Committee.
The single European sky was established in 2004 to facilitate a single market in air transport. The single European sky air traffic management research programme—SESAR—which is the
“new generation European air traffic management system”,
is seen as the industry-led implementation programme for the single European sky, and is designed to complement the existing regulatory framework and to facilitate the implementation of new technology in the field of air traffic management. The European Aviation Safety Agency was established in 2002. EASA is an independent Community body with a legal personality and autonomy in legal, administrative and financial matters. The Commission sees it as a necessary complement to establishing the single European sky.
The four documents that we recommended for debate mark an important stage in the development of the Community’s common aviation area. The Commission communication sets out briefly its proposals, in the shape of four pillars, for developing the single European sky. The first pillar is concerned with “regulating performance”, and its main component is the draft regulation to amend the single European sky regulations. The second pillar is concerned with “a single safety framework”. Its main components are a call for overlapping safety regulatory structures to be united under a single Community safety regulatory framework, and the draft regulation to extend the EASA remit.
The third pillar is concerned with
“opening the door to new technologies”—
that is, progress on SESAR. The Commission staff working document that accompanies the communication is the SESAR master plan. It marks the end of the definition phase and triggers the development phase. The fourth pillar is concerned with
“managing capacity on the ground”—
that is, airport capacity, efficiency and safety.
The documents and the single European sky concept itself cover a variety of matters, many of which the European Scrutiny Committee believes that hon. Members will wish to discuss with the Minister. They may wish to explore progress on implanting the single European sky generally, but we have drawn particular attention to the Government’s comments on aspects of the draft regulation amending the single European sky legislative framework, and to the next developments on SESAR—that is, the development phase.
4.33 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham that it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Benton.
The primary purpose of the second European sky package is to promote the efficient use of European airspace and to strengthen aviation safety, building on the progress made under the European Community’s first single European sky initiative. The package includes proposals to revise the existing single European sky regulations, establish a performance framework for European air traffic management and extend the responsibilities of the European Aviation Safety Agency. The package aims to create an altogether more efficient European air traffic network. It will make better use of ground capacity and create more direct routing by aligning the design of the network across Europe. That will reduce fuel burn and emissions, and cut holding times and associated noise and visual intrusion. The initiative is strongly supported by the industry.
Before discussing the contents of the package in more detail, I shall briefly outline the background to the European single sky initiative. The first single European sky package was established to address burgeoning flight delays in the late 1990s across Europe. The UK Government have been firm supporters of the initiative since its inception and have been at the forefront of negotiations in all developments so far.
The first package aimed to improve and strengthen aviation safety, restructure European airspace, to accommodate air traffic flow more efficiently and cost-effectively without the constraints imposed by national borders, and create a uniform and interoperable air traffic management system. The single sky committee, comprising civil and military representatives from member states, was established to support the process and it has been working with the Commission to develop a range of implementing measures on issues such as the requirements for air traffic service providers, charging and airspace design.
The Commission was obliged under the first single European sky package to review progress after three years, a task that it completed in 2007. Eurocontrol’s performance review commission also evaluated progress made under single European sky I and published its conclusions in 2006. The reports were considered alongside those of the high-level group, a body established by Commissioner Barrot to make recommendations on how to improve the regulatory framework for European air traffic management.
The results of the three reports, together with opinions gained during a series of high-level conferences, led the Commission to produce the SES II package. It consists of four pillars, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend. The first is concerned with
“improving the performance of the European ATM network”,
Local or regional functional airspace block plans will be developed by the appropriate regulatory authorities to meet these targets and the Commission will ensure consistency of the plans through a rigorous process of negotiation with the member states and the proposed performance review body. An additional objective is the establishment of a network management function, to ensure that individual local alterations to the route structure are co-ordinated across Europe, thereby producing the most efficient and cost-effective structure for our airlines. It would be sensible to utilise the undoubted expertise that exists in Eurocontrol, which currently performs part of this role. However, that would be conditional on reform within the agency to meet fully the needs of the SES. A number of other areas are covered in these proposals, and the UK has adopted an approach of consultation with stakeholders to ensure that the most appropriate negotiating strategy is taken forward.
The second pillar is concerned with establishing a clear framework for aviation safety. The package includes a regulatory proposal to extend the remit of the European Aviation Safety Agency to the safety of aerodromes, air traffic management and air navigation services. This will help to simplify the current regulatory structure, whereby responsibility for the safety regulation of ATM is shared between national aviation authorities, Eurocontrol and the European Commission. It will also establish EASA—I hope that my right hon. Friend does not mind my pronouncing it differently to him, and in any case it will appear the same in Hansard, so we here are the only ones who will know the difference—as the Community’s single safety regulator, able to take a “total system approach” to safety, ensuring no gaps or overlaps in the regulatory regime.
The Government have consistently supported the EASA system as part of our commitment to a high, uniform level of aviation safety in Europe. A genuine European single market in air transport services calls for common safety rules and consistent implementation across member states. We are committed to the principle of extending the remit of the agency on a measured basis into new areas of aviation safety.
In 2003, EASA was given responsibility for airworthiness issues, and in April its role was extended to include setting the rules relating to air operations. We support its extension in due course to aerodrome and air traffic movement safety, provided it has the necessary resources for the task. The Government will continue to work with the Civil Aviation Authority and EU institutions to ensure that EASA, operating in partnership with national aviation authorities, delivers a highly effective regulatory system.
The third pillar is concerned with
“opening the door to new technologies”,
principally the SESAR project. SESAR was launched in 2006 to produce a
“Master Plan for European Air Traffic Management”
and is a joint undertaking between the EU, Eurocontrol and industry. Financial contributions from the EU and Eurocontrol amount to €700 million each, with industry bodies more than matching that effort. That plan was delivered in March and the resolution will be put to the Transport Council for approval on 9 October 2008. Over its two remaining phases, SESAR will deliver technology and processes to fulfil the plan for European air traffic management in 2020. The development of new technologies will begin in approximately five years.
The second pillar of the SES II package reasserts that modernisation of the European air traffic management system through the SESAR project needs to be supported to allow future traffic growth to be absorbed and that successful implementation of the SESAR master plan is a collective responsibility that demands the commitment of the whole aviation community.
The fourth pillar is concerned with
“managing capacity on the ground”.
In that section, the Commission notes that the European Parliament and the Council have endorsed its communication, “An action plan for airport capacity, efficiency and safety in Europe” and states that the new technologies derived from SESAR will increase the efficiency of airport operations. The Commission states that it will propose measures to ensure consistency between airport slots and flight plans and proposes to set up an observatory
“composed of Member States, relevant authorities and stakeholders, to exchange and monitor data and information on airport capacity as a whole.”
The observatory will also offer advise on network management tasks.
With regard to timing, the French presidency has indicated that it intends to pursue the first of those pillars—amending the founding SES regulations to improve the performance of the air traffic management system—as its greatest priority and will aim for a Council common position by the end of the year. The presidency has afforded a lower priority to the second pillar of aviation safety matters, with Council discussions not scheduled until later in the autumn.
In conclusion, we are satisfied that the Commission’s proposal, with some detailed amendments, will deliver a proportionate regulatory structure and improve the performance of the European ATM system. The air transport industry in the UK supports the shift of focus towards performance and has responded positively to consultation.
The Chairman: We now have until 5.30 pm for questions to the Minister, which should be brief. It is open to any Member, subject to my discretion, to ask a series of related questions.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton, as we discuss this extremely complicated package. My first three questions are linked. Document 3 states, on page 34, that the European Parliament and Council have endorsed
“an action plan for airport capacity, efficiency and safety in Europe.”
It states that the necessary investment in airport capacity needs to be made to accommodate growing demand for air traffic and that airport capacity needs to be aligned with ATM capacity. Will the Minister assure us that acceptance of these latest proposals will not force this country into any particular programme of airport expansion?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The proposals are designed to deal with the anticipated growth of aviation capacity worldwide, and certainly Europe-wide, in the immediate future. Figures have been clearly laid out on the expected expansion across Europe.
In our 2003 aviation White Paper, we outlined the anticipated expansion in the UK. Furthermore, as the hon. Gentleman knows, on 27 February a consultation on additional capacity at Heathrow, which received some 70,000 responses, reached its conclusion. The Government support additional air capacity at Heathrow, Stansted and other UK airports—measures that are neither in conflict, nor centrally involved with the proposals before us. However, their general thrust is to make aviation more efficient and ensure that its traverse across European skies is as fuel efficient as possible. So there is linkage, but endorsement of the proposals will not signal that the Conservative party has changed its mind since 29 September and is now supporting additional capacity at Heathrow, although on 30 September the leader of the party did not quite put it that way.
Mr. Brazier: I am sure that you would reprove me, Mr. Benton, if I allowed the Minister to seduce me down the path of debating Heathrow. He knows where we are coming from and we know where he is coming from. However, I bring him back to the extent to which the documents could fetter future decisions. The Commission communication
“suggests measures to improve the planning process of new airport infrastructure and calls for improvements to surface access and says it is considering a strengthening of Community noise rules at airports”.
The Minister knows that we support the overall idea behind the proposals—I shall come on to that when I make my speech—and measures to give us greater control over noise. However, the quote that I gave in my first question and this one suggest that the document could significantly constrain the Government in the planning process. Will he be more specific about his earlier answer?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I apologise for teasing the hon. Gentleman; he knows that no offence was intended. The EU has no locus or role in local and national planning decisions. Those are decisions for the UK Government, not for this paper.
Mr. Brazier: With that firm assurance, I do not need to put my third question.
Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): On the second pillar, will my hon. Friend tell us what improvements in aircraft safety have been made since the programme started?
Graham Stringer: As far as I am aware—perhaps my hon. Friend can correct me—although planes might be safer because of technological improvements, there have been no regulatory improvements. Is it not the case that, while discussions about setting up the European regulatory system have been going on, we have actually been moving towards a lowest common denominator for European air safety?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I do not accept that; my hon. Friend knows that all Governments, and certainly the UK Government, treat safety as one of their top priorities. This is not about reducing safety to the lowest common denominator. If anything, I suggest that the reverse is true. We are trying to ensure consistency across Europe on safety procedures and standards. I am sure that he realises that harmonising existing safety rules and continuing to try to ensure common standards, training methods and so on ought to ensure greater familiarity in the industry and lead to greater safety overall. EASA delivered the certification for the Airbus 380, so it clearly played a role. More efficient processes for industry and harmonisation across the EU, where previously there were multifarious national standards, training methods and procedure will lead to a better understanding. Understanding and informed processes are part of safety’s success story.
Graham Stringer: This is my last question on this issue. My hon. Friend is making a good fist of a difficult point. I am happy to be corrected, but as far as I am aware, the investigation after the 1985 air disaster at Manchester airport resulted in a number of recommendations on space, bulkheads and where seats on the aeroplane should face, and none has been implemented. I believe that one of the reasons is that discussions have been taking place at the European level to try to bring southern air standards up to the general level. That has not helped the British aviation industry at all. I should be grateful for his comments.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am not sure that I accept my hon. Friend’s contention that the recommendations after the Manchester disaster were not taken on board. When I visited our research establishment for aviation safety some five or six months ago, the people there were very proud of the research that they had undertaken into that and several similar disasters around the world. They could not work out why, although training exercises for the evacuation of aircraft had proceeded smoothly, multiple lives were lost in Manchester and other disasters.
It took them some time to devise a method for injecting greater realism into evacuation procedures. When they filled the plane, just before the evacuation procedure, they told the guinea pigs inside that the first 10 people off the aircraft would get £10. That automatically recreated the congestion found at the bulkheads and the wing exits, and they determined that one way to improve evacuation was to increase the size of the wing exits, as well as accepting some of the other recommendations that my hon. Friend mentioned. Although some aspects might not have been taken fully on board—I will take advice on that—some recommendations certainly were. In terms of creating a European safety regime, the Government are committed to ensuring that the safest possible arrangements are in place for those who have to or choose to travel by air.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for this important discussion, Mr. Benton. I shall probe the Minister on one matter only; the rest of my comments I shall leave till later.
As we have heard, the single European sky agreement has many laudable objectives, including introducing performance standards, modernising and improving the interoperability of air navigation services and—the nub of the question—setting a time limit of 2012, by which all member states need to complete the functional airspace blocks. The functional airspace blocks were originally agreed in 2004. What progress has been achieved on creating them? What hitches and obstacles have resulted in—I guess, expected—delays? Does he consider that the 2012 deadline is still realistic and viable? What action will the Government take to expedite progress toward that objective?
Jim Fitzpatrick: We have successfully introduced the functional airspace block between ourselves and the Republic of Ireland. We have entered into an agreement as a starting point, because it will develop as communications improve and as arrangements develop and mature in the years ahead. So that for which we were responsible for has been completed. Although the other FABs do not directly concern us, they will have an impact on UK flights because they will be travelling through prospective airspace.
In direct terms, the UK Government’s role is somewhat limited, but the new FAB article acknowledges that FABs will be justified by their overall value. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the 2012 deadline is challenging, but it may be that some ongoing initiatives will be re-evaluated to see whether they can be brought forward by the deadline. The 2012 deadline produces a pressure point and focuses the minds of those who have been trying to negotiate the other FABs across Europe. Once they are in being, those people will have to work harder to ensure that progress is made, because the onus will be on them to demonstrate best efforts, and we will expect progress.
Mark Hunter: With the best will in the world, I guess that any deadline helps to focus the minds of those who are charged with ensuring that it is achieved. However, as the Minister has acknowledged, our own functional airspace block—the one that England and the Republic of Ireland are involved in—is pretty pointless unless we have the rest of the building blocks in place across Europe. In view of the limited progress within the wider EU in which we play a full role—I appreciate that we have made reasonable progress in this country—is the Minister still satisfied that 2012 is realistic? That was the key part of the question.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May I ask the Minister the extent of the single European sky? What are the borders of the area? Does it include non-EU countries? How far does it go out into the Atlantic and into Africa, and to what extent is Russia involved?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I will take advice on Russia, but the number of states that it represents is 35, I believe, so it covers the 27 plus surrounding states. It goes out as far as Iceland and takes in Scandinavia and some of the eastern European countries. It is pretty much the whole of the centre of Europe, but I will get back to the hon. Gentleman in a moment on the question of Russia.
Mr. Hollobone: May I press the point on Africa and out into the Atlantic? Furthermore, in relation to Russia, what is the status of Kaliningrad? I am not sure what the modern name of the place is, but I am referring to the little Russian enclave next to the Baltic states.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am sorry that I do not have a specific response to the hon. Gentleman in respect of the territory that he has mentioned. If he will forgive me, I will come back to him later on in the debate.
Mr. Hollobone: I am sure that our constituents will be concerned to know the extent to which this arrangement overlaps with, or interferes with, military flights and military control of airspace. Can the Minister reassure me that there will be no interference in RAF air traffic movement control, especially with regard to the defence of British airspace?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The UK is in a more fortunate position than our European neighbours in that UK military airspace is smaller in comparison. We have good arrangements with the military. We think that the proposal may lead to a revisiting of the amount of military airspace in other European countries because, when considering the best, easiest and most efficient way in which to get from point A to B, some military airspace has been there for a considerable time and the proposal may provide the opportunity to examine such matters to see whether it might require movement in other countries.
Mr. Hollobone: Can the Minister confirm that there will be no interference with civil or military aviation in respect of Gibraltar? In the past, the Spanish authorities have been difficult on occasions with regard to that airspace.
Jim Fitzpatrick: We are sensitive to the fact that Gibraltar is operating as a military airport as well as a civil airport. We are certain that the question whether military-run aerodromes such as Gibraltar should be licensed to European standards will be negotiated. We are not in any way, shape or form anxious about the impact of the arrangements on Gibraltar, and that is exactly where we want to go.
I wish to correct my previous reference to 35 states being covered. The number of states that the proposal will affect is 40, comprising 27 European Union states and 13 non-EU states. Russia is not included and Kaliningrad is not in either category. That is the accurate position about which I was not able to inform the hon. Gentleman earlier.
Mr. Hollobone: Will the Minister confirm that under the proposals no part of UK airspace will come under air traffic movement control from non-UK nationals based in another EU country? In other words, will Britain retain civil control over its civil airspace?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I assure the hon. Gentleman categorically that, under the Chicago convention, states retain the sovereign responsibility for matters of their airspace management and design.
Mr. Hollobone: What part of the proposals do the Government regard as the weakest?
Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury (Tony Cunningham): Don’t tell him.
Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend tells me from a sedentary position not to tell the hon. Gentleman, but that would be wholly inappropriate. “Can’t tell him” might be a much more accurate answer. I am not sure that I recognise a point that is the weakest. We were discussing the 2012 deadline and whether it is realistic with the hon. Member for Cheadle. We are certainly committed to the whole SES process. We support EASA, and we believe that the proposal is in the interests of aviation, both for the operating companies and for those who have to fly. It will help to challenge climate change because it will lead to the more efficient operation of aircraft with less fuel burn. In addition, there are attempts to make sure that there is less annoyance factor. There is a number of reasons why the proposals will be advantageous to airlines.
I am advised that the weakest proposal in the documents is the observatory proposal, which I mentioned at the end of my speech. However, we do not regard it as necessarily disadvantageous to the United Kingdom. We are content to be moving along those lines.
Mr. Brazier: What I have to say follows on from the question that my hon. Friend asked about military airspace. Page 22 of document 2 covers the extension of EASA’s remit and the validation of operational concepts governing a specified volume of airspace. How would that impact on terminal control north, for example—a deeply controversial set of proposals that I will return to in my speech? Under the proposals, would EASA have the last word, or would it be the architect of any such reorganisation in the future?
Jim Fitzpatrick: As the hon. Gentleman knows, terminal control north is under consideration at the moment. It is an important matter for many parliamentary colleagues who have participated in the consultation, as well as thousands of constituents and organisations. I reiterate the response that I gave to the hon. Member for Kettering a moment ago: UK airspace remains our sovereign responsibility under the Chicago convention and the proposals will not conflict with that. Sadly, at this stage I am not in a position to offer any further light regarding terminal control north.
Mr. Brazier: Besides the line that I cited, document 2 page 12 puts enormous emphasis on matters that we would all approve of, such as planning to reduce fuel burn, noise and so on. Does the Minister say that Britain, and Britain alone, would make the final assessment about a terminal control north type of decision in the future once the measure is implemented?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The answer is yes.
Mr. Brazier: In document 2, the fourth amendment proposed for framework regulation states that, like the CAA,
“NSAs are to prepare national or regional performance plans with binding targets, consistent with Community-wide performance targets”.
It goes on to say that
“if targets are not met, Member States are to apply ‘corrective measures’”.
Would any UK performance plan be laid before the House?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I would be surprised if that were not the case. The European Scrutiny Committee does an effective job of keeping tabs on what the UK Government do vis- -vis the Commission and European partners. Should such an arrangement be felt appropriate, or should the Government feel that the matter required debate on the Floor of the House, or should the Opposition require dialogue, I would be surprised if anything of significance were to slip past the Opposition parties and not come before the House.
Mr. Brazier: It would be nice if the Minister could just say yes. In the same answer, could he also specify what he thinks the Commission has in mind when it refers to “corrective measures”?
Jim Fitzpatrick: It is not as straightforward as the hon. Gentleman suggests. Corrective measures will vary from one state to another, depending on what needs to be corrected and what that will require. In the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority regulates the air traffic management system and ensures that NATS respects its obligations. Because the CAA is the regulatory body and NATS is the body that delivers the service, any question marks over the performance of one or the other would, I imagine, be open for discussion. The approval of such matters will be negotiated in due course.
Mr. Brazier: We are to have a performance plan that we hope will come before the House, but what happens if it goes wrong? Who will decide on whether it has gone wrong, and who will decide on the corrective measures?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The CAA will be responsible for overseeing NATS, and the CAA will prepare plans in consultation with stakeholders. Corrective measures must be agreed in the same fashion, and that is the appropriate level of national responsibility with the regulator.
Mr. Brazier: This might be an appropriate moment to return to the good series of questions from the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley. I do not want to go down the route of discussing the disaster, although I know that he has a particular interest from a constituency and a professional angle.
Earlier, the Minister made a confident remark about EASA. That is a body of growing competence, which I enjoyed visiting a year ago. Does he accept that EASA is still undermanned and that it faces a recruitment problem because of its unpopular location for British and French engineers? Britain and France are the two main countries with expertise in this field. Before we hand another raft of skills from the CAA and its French counterparts to EASA, will the Minister set out what progress he would like to see EASA make in its staffing, its competences and so on?
Jim Fitzpatrick: In my opening statement, I said that resources are an issue. To carry out the functions that will be expected of it, EASA will need to be staffed up and must have the appropriate resources to do the job. That is a matter for consideration that will unfold in the months ahead. The hon. Gentleman has rightly raised that concern, which we share. We will be watching that progress because there is no point in empowering an organisation if it does not have the wherewithal to do the job.
Mr. Brazier rose—
The Chairman: Order. I want to move on and give other hon. Members a chance. There will be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to ask questions later on.
Graham Stringer: May I follow up on the last question, Mr Benton? The Transport Committee produced a report two or three years ago on EASA, which was highly critical of its resources, its competence and its structure. Will the Minister tell the Committee what progress has been made since the Transport Committee made its recommendations?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I have been advised that the agency has made considerable progress since the Transport Committee report of 2006. In particular, there have been improvements in its business planning, its governance and its financial situation. The adoption of a new fees and charges regulation in 2007 has stabilised the agency’s financial situation, enabling it to produce a comprehensive business plan covering the next five years. The agency’s governance has also improved; it has developed a more effective partnership approach with national aviation authorities and has set up sub-committees of the management board to oversee its budget and certification activities. It has 400 staff, which is a long way forward from 2006. However, as the hon. Member for Canterbury rightly said, it is still a challenge to attract specific experts—for example, test pilots. In that regard, there is more progress to be made. However, as I said, progress has been made since the 2006 Select Committee report, and the Department for Transport, working closely with the CAA and European institutions, will continue to take steps to strengthen EASA’s capacity and performance.
Graham Stringer: To follow up on the questions from the hon. Member for Kettering, a weak point in the reports was the Government’s disagreement with the European Commission about whether there should be a national supervisory authority. The Government have commendably said that there should be. Will my hon. Friend say what the consequences will be if the Government do not achieve their objective of having a national supervisory authority?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I do not wish to hazard a guess that we will fail, or comment on what will happen in that event that we do fail. We believe that we will succeed. Our national supervisory authority is the CAA and it will play the co-ordinating role that is required. SESAR governance is a work in progress. As my hon. Friend suggests, the UK places a high value on having a clear idea of how the money for SESAR has been spent to ensure that there is efficiency within the organisation. However, the CAA is already performing the function of the national supervisory authority, and in that regard we are not likely to fail.
Graham Stringer: Hon. Members have mentioned the impact on the regions of an open skies policy for Europe. Can my hon. Friend the Minister refer me to, provide the Committee with, or place in the Library any information he has on the regional impact of having an open skies policy for Europe?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I will have to research what we have in the Department and supply it to my hon. Friend and other Committee members.
Mr. Brazier: In page 3 of document 1, in the section covering the Commission’s first report on delivery of the original single European sky, the conclusion is that the
“Single European Sky had not delivered the expected results in important areas, in particular improved cost-efficiency, system design, efficiency and the introduction of cross-border”
functionality. Do the Government agree with that assessment? In particular, what are the main areas of delay relating to the UK?
Jim Fitzpatrick: We agree with the assessment, which says that results in the important areas that the hon. Gentleman mentioned—cost-efficiency, system design, efficiency and functional airspace blocks—have not been delivered so far. Clearly, the UK has made progress in a number of those areas—for example, the establishment of a FAB with Ireland. The 2012 deadline will put other member states under pressure to fulfil their responsibilities within SES II, which is a response and a reaction to SES I. It says that SES I was the right policy and that the framework and the objectives were right, but that those were not delivered. SES I has gone so far and SES II is being introduced to try to ensure that there is greater clarity and specification, and that we can get on and do the job. The UK has acquitted itself well in the period so far. We want to do more to make progress.
Mr. Brazier: A couple of pages on in the same document there is talk of reforming Eurocontrol and its governance structures and of the Commission’s intention to enhance its co-operation with Eurocontrol by means of a framework agreement. The Minister touched on that, but will he just set out again, given the significance of Eurocontrol, what input the UK Government get on this framework agreement? What reforms do they believe are taking place and should take place?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Many of these items will be under discussion and there will be opportunities ahead, following the Transport Council this week, for the UK to play its full part in negotiating the best possible arrangements for all the governance aspects of SES II, SESAR, EASA or Eurocontrol. The UK will do all it can to ensure that we participate fully and achieve our objectives, and, more generally, that we are able to move aviation forward in the direction that these papers are trying to push it in.
Mr. Brazier: The next question follows on from that and from the Minister’s earlier remarks. Do the Government feel that they have the assurances that they are looking for—namely, that the proposals will not affect UK competition and that they will, if possible, help to create a genuine European-wide market?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The essence of what we have been discussing over the past 49 minutes is that we are looking to have a European regime that is efficient, tackles climate change and is to the benefit of the air passenger and the aviation companies, and that, for people on the ground, there is less of a problem from pollution, noise and visual disturbance. The proposals are generally regarded as moving us forward considerably in all those protective and progressive directions in tackling climate change. We have made considerable progress, but there is a lot more to be done.
On the 2012 deadline, the Transport Council this week outlined matters through to 2020, and the additional arrangements and improvements for the governance of various agencies is very much part of that.
Mr. Brazier: Again, in document 1, the Government state on page 6 that they are consulting on the increase of powers for EASA. We have had some discussion about EASA, including exchanges with the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley. Who exactly is being consulted? I hope that it is not just the big players. Is general aviation, for example, being consulted?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The consultation is with stakeholders who will be affected.
Mr. Brazier: If there were considerable opposition from some of those stakeholders, would that influence the Government’s view?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman knows that in any consultation the Government weigh up the views of stakeholders and judge them on their merits. No one has a guaranteed right to a veto one way or the other. The consultation will be valid and genuine, and we will weigh up the opinions. Depending on what issues come forward, we will base our judgement on the evidence.
Mr. Brazier: The document says that the Commission will be given
“powers to enable it to ensure design of the European route network, coordination and allocation of scarce resources, in particular radio frequencies and radar transponder codes and additional functions of the ATM network”.
Various controversies have arisen on that. Does the Minister agree that that is a pretty broad increase in authority? How will it affect, for example, current plans to sell various bandwidths, some of which, as he knows, are controversial?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that I shall have to respond later on the impact on bandwidth sales.
Mr. Brazier: Of course. How do the Government envisage the revenue from the supply of air traffic services being allocated?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am not sure that I understand the question. Air traffic services in the UK are provided by National Air Traffic Services. The revenue that it collects provides the company with its balance sheet, and it will obviously function on a commercial basis, as it has done for many years.
Mr. Brazier: So air traffic services will remain in the UK, and not go to a European body.
The simplification of air traffic management throughout Europe will inevitably mean that some countries will lose their independent air traffic management sectors, and we have already discussed Ireland, which is a good example of that. Will those countries that retain their air traffic management sectors be allowed to make available sufficient revenue for technology investment without recourse to taxpayers, or will there be an additional burden on the taxpayers of those countries that continue to operate full ATM services, which will obviously include Britain?
Jim Fitzpatrick: All I can say about that is that there will be a common charging scheme for air navigation services. When it is introduced, transparency will be deployed and will clearly lead to the aviation industry having a real opportunity to examine the costs of services in various countries. I suspect that if one country’s service is greatly more expensive than another’s, those who pay the bill will start to ask questions, as they would in any organisation. The common policy means that at least there will be greater transparency, and greater openness should lead to greater value for money while ensuring, as we have done in the UK, that safety is not compromised in any way, shape or form.
Graham Stringer rose—
Mr. Brazier rose—
The Chairman: Order. Only six minutes remain for Question Time, and I want to try to get everyone in.
Graham Stringer: This is my last question. The advent of a European open skies policy enabled the European authorities to negotiate an open skies policy with the United States of America, albeit one—in my opinion—that was biased towards the USA. UPS has written to me and other hon. Members, saying that the aviation duty proposal will breach both the Chicago convention and the European open skies policy. Does my hon. Friend have any legal advice to counter that? If he does, will he place it in the Library?
Jim Fitzpatrick: There are certainly issues of conflict between what is proposed and the Chicago convention, because the convention requires every individual country to have its own arrangements. If we go to a collective arrangement within Europe, the 27 countries will have to renegotiate those elements of the Chicago convention. Adjustments will have to be made. In respect of further conflicts that lawyers may have identified, I shall certainly examine the situation and advise my hon. Friend.
Mr. Brazier: My last two questions relate to cost. Page 21 of document 2 covers the extension of EASA’s remit to the licensing of small aerodromes. I know that the Government have expressed concern about that. What chances do they have of securing an alternative definition? What other countries, if any, support us on that issue?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Sorry, the definition of what?
Mr. Brazier: The extension of EASA’s remit effectively to lower the licensing threshold for aerodromes, so that small aerodromes become caught up in the expensive EASA picture.
Jim Fitzpatrick: We recognise that problem, and it will have to be examined. We certainly believe that we will have some support, but I am not in a position to state the exact level. We will take the issue on board in due course.
Mr. Brazier: I am grateful for that answer, but my final question is whether the Minister, in all the various answers he has given about EASA, and following the Select Committee’s good report on EASA, which had an unsatisfactory outcome, will recognise that by gradually overcoming the difficulties, the Government do so at very considerable cost? It is a significant burden on some parts of the aviation sector, and this Committee’s interest is, on the one hand, in keeping down the cost to our taxpayer, while, on the other, in ensuring that the situation does not become ruinously expensive for parts of the aviation sector.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Committee takes note of European Union Documents Nos. 11325/08, Commission Communication on Single European Sky II, towards more sustainable and better performing aviation, 11347/08 and Addendum 1, Commission Staff Working Document accompanying the Communication on Single European Sky II, the SESAR Master Plan for the development and implementation of the new generation European air traffic management system (SESAR -Single European Sky ATM Research), 11323/08 and Addenda 1 and 2, Draft Regulation amending Regulations (EC) No. 549/2004, No. 550/2004, No. 551/2004 and No. 552/2004 in order to improve the performance and sustainability of the European aviation system, 11285/08 and Addenda 1 and 2, Draft Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 216/2008 in the field of aerodromes, air traffic management and air navigation services and repealing Council Directive 06/23/EEC; and endorses the Government’s approach to discussions on these documents.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]
5.29 pm
Mr. Brazier: As the Minister has rightly said, we have a valuable objective before us, but the route to it is immensely complicated. I cannot remember a Committee of the House dealing with such a complicated subject for a long time; indeed, the matter seems to have become significantly more complex than when we last discussed it.
As is often the case with any European issue, the devil is in the detail. On matters European, when unexpected consequences follow, we often look back and say, “If only we’d read the small print.” The plain fact is that today in Europe there are 60 or more control centres. The American air traffic control system manages double the number of flights from just 20 control centres on a similar budget. The fragmentation in Europe leads not only to a reduction in capacity, but to increased costs in the form of piecemeal procurement, which then leads to high maintenance and contingency costs for equipment and increased costs for research, training and administration. The Commission has estimated that such fragmentation costs €1 billion every year and suggests that air traffic control currently accounts for between 8 and 12 per cent. of a typical ticket price.
Fuel burn is chief among the problems of fragmentation. Shorter routes could save nearly 5 million tonnes of CO2 a year. That figure would increase to 16 million tonnes a year if both air traffic control and airport operations were improved, saving some 7 to 12 per cent. of emissions for the average flight. Against that background, these proposals must be taken seriously and, in principle, we are with the Government on this, particularly given that other initiatives on which many have pinned their hopes for reducing aviation emissions, such as the European emissions trading scheme, appear likely to be relatively ineffectual. Indeed, the Commission itself admitted that by 2020, the ETS would reduce growth in emissions by less than one year’s worth—from 142 to 135 per cent. Recent developments might improve on that a little, but it is still disappointing.
This is an important project for several reasons, but at each stage of this enormously complicated business we have to ask whether the considerable potential gains will be worth the possible prices of loss of independence, interference in a variety of ways and extra hidden costs, some of which have emerged during questioning. The Government are right to proceed, but we need to be extremely wary.
The Minister gave me a clear and direct answer on capacity, so I shall not labour that point. However, if one considers some of the measures in the document—for example, there are references to an
“action plan for airport capacity, efficiency and safety in Europe”—
the suspicion arises that the Commission is gradually trying to get its oar in somewhere new. The document states that
“The necessary investments in airport capacity need to be made. To accommodate growing demand for air traffic, airport capacity needs to remain aligned with ATM capacity to preserve the overall efficiency of the network.”
That does not appear to have been written by a civil servant with much interest in climate change. Again, as we so often we find with Europe, passages that appear to be peripheral to the main aim of a document suddenly become central to the powers being exercised by the Commission.
The Minister pointed out earlier that my party has made it clear that we would block a third runway at Heathrow, and we have been opposed to one at Stansted for a long time, so we have a particular interest in this subject. More planes in the air must lead to a requirement for more landing slots. The fear is that the pressure to utilise available capacity fully will force us by default to build more runways. On page 32, the document bundle states:
“SESAR is to increase safety levels by a factor of ten, capable of handling a threefold increase in traffic”.
Again, one wonders how that fits in with the Government’s climate change targets. The decision by a UK Government, of whatever colour, to increase or lower capacity and how they do that should be a UK matter for voters to react to accordingly. Once we have a European single sky, political control is one step removed from Whitehall and technical control of airspace has partly moved away from bodies directly answerable to the Secretary of State, so the question of how to determine such issues will arise.
Graham Stringer: I understand the Conservatives’ position of not wanting a third runway at Heathrow—it is legitimate to take that position, although I do not agree with it—but does the hon. Gentleman really believe that if Heathrow is constricted, less carbon dioxide will be produced by aviation?
Mr. Brazier: The hon. Gentleman represents a seat very close to the one new runway that is on the way. I know that he supports it, as do I, and it was locally agreed. When we opposed the third runway at Heathrow, we made it clear that climate change was only one of the considerations. The huge concern about putting extra traffic equivalent to an entire Gatwick airport on to that site was the impact that it would have on the lives of a large number of people through noise and through oxides of nitrogen. Those were the largest factors. We do not even know whether the current operation at Heathrow will be legal under the 2010 legal operations regulations. I believe that restraining overall runway growth is part of the solution to climate change, but I will not make a simplistic argument that any one runway decision alone will make a huge difference.
To take another example, page 35 of our document bundle states:
“The Commission will set up an Observatory... It will be in a position to arrive at balanced and consolidated opinions to advise the Commission on the development and implementation of Community airport capacity.”
The Minister rightly said that that was the weakest part of the proposals. He is right to be concerned, but he should perhaps be a little more concerned about it than he sounded. Again, it seems a sweeping and non-specific increase in Commission competency of the kind that we have seen so often in other documents and contexts.
Another worrying aspect of the proposal is the organisation of airspace, with which Members may be familiar because of the recent NATS proposals for terminal control north, which we discussed a little during questions. It is proposed to stack planes over Newmarket, threatening noise blight to areas of outstanding natural beauty and the city of Cambridge and potentially ruining the British horse racing industry—one area in which we are still a world-beating country. Oddly enough, that is the single aviation issue on which I have had more letters from angry constituents passed on to me by colleagues than on any other in my brief.
In all, it seems that those living in rural areas will suffer a substantial increase in noise intrusion, and the Government’s own “Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England” study has shown that those in quiet areas suffer much more from aircraft noise than those in more noisy ones. Given the need to make routes more efficient—the essence of the SES project—we must question whether that will be the shape of things to come. The Minister was confident that the project will not give the Commission a wedge to interfere, but given the wording of the documents, I wonder.
Page 28 of the document bundle contains a graph showing that the largest single contributory component of the expected potential 12 per cent. fuel efficiency saving from the scheme could come from better approach procedures. That has been confirmed by talking to people in the industry. The proposal seeks the removal of the upper and lower division of airspace. The Government believe that the latter issue is related to both the Commission’s intention to extend the application of the single European sky to airport level—essentially, take-off and landing paths, continuous descent and so on—and to the matters in the proposal for the terminal control north reorganisation. We must ask how far the deeply unpopular NATS proposals for terminal control north reflect the anticipated future needs of the SES. If they have nothing to do with them, can we expect another reorganisation? In answers to questions, the Minister was confident that it would make no difference, but I ask him to reflect on that. Can we perhaps expect worse outcomes?
On a general but related matter, with the single European sky and oversight from the European Aviation Safety Agency, how would any future consultation on airspace reorganisation over the UK be carried out? By that, I am led to ask about the amount of consideration given to the general aviation sector, which is a vibrant industry in Britain that provides valuable jobs, training for both the military and civil sectors, and enjoyment to many. General aviation has suffered in recent years from both European and domestic legislation, which has tended either to treat it as civil aviation on a small scale, or simply to set rules for the civil sector and expect it to fall in line without further thought. I do not want operation in lower airspace made yet more difficult for general aviation by the blurring of the upper and lower sectors, or a big increase in bureaucracy for small aerodromes.
The proposals will also increase EASA’s powers, extending its remit to cover certification of aerodromes, ground services and air traffic control. I note the Government’s reservations, although they were fairly modest. Aside from a possible needless extension of regulation and bureaucracy into organisations that are not currently supervised, I question whether EASA is fit for that new role. I expressed that view for the first time when we debated European legislation on air traffic management on 13 March 2006. I shall not bore the Committee by going back over the same ground, but in the light of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley and myself, I ask the Government to be extremely wary of extending EASA’s remit. It is capacity-constrained at the moment, and expensive compared with its national counterparts.
In the same Committee, I questioned how technological aspects of the project would be delivered, in particular on the role of Eurocontrol. It possessed 30 per cent. of the voting rights, but the industry collectively had just 10 per cent, which seems to be an odd arrangement. There were also questions about the funding for the project. There were concerns that, far from agreeing the mechanisms for technical co-operation, we were in danger of sliding into a Galileo-style project, with the hidden subtext of creating a new electronics industry to rival the Americans’. At nearly 600 pages, the document is weighty, but I have read nothing that suggests that those problems have been overcome. There is a reference to internal reform of Eurocontrol, but little mention of what that would entail.
We must avoid the measure becoming another Galileo or, worse still, taken in the run—that is a technical issue—becoming an aviation common agricultural policy. Even the proposal to ensure that member states do not object to air navigation services from, or located in, other member states, could be viewed with suspicion. Potentially, that is a new, creeping power for the Commission. Although it could help our providers, it could also mean that on some unspecified future date, we could be told that air traffic control services will be provided by a French supplier. No doubt the Minister will tell me that that is impossible, but he may find that it happens in 10 or 15 years.
The Minister and his Department have reservations about some aspects of the proposals, and he has been frank about one of those. Indeed, to their credit, they expressed similar reservations the last time we debated such European legislation in March 2006. On balance, the idea of a single European sky and integrated air traffic management is, on the face of it, thoroughly sensible, given the considerable cost savings and environmental pay-offs. However, the document before us is so large because it requires an extraordinary amount of centralised control and policy work. We cannot have countries that use the single currency setting different interest rates or spending and borrowing beyond certain levels, because the system would fall apart. That is analogous to the proposals. After all, the Commission’s first report on the delivery of the single European sky objectives concluded:
“Single European sky had not delivered the expected results in important areas, in particular improved cost efficiency, system design, efficiency and the introduction of cross border functionality”
and mentions several times the problem of overcoming national considerations.
Members of the Committee may feel that I am scaremongering or being unnecessarily pessimistic. In one or two areas, such as strengthening EU rules at airports, I think that more centralisation may well make sense; but what concerns me is that we may later find ourselves signing off measures on a far larger scale than the harmonious integration of air traffic control management. We may eventually conclude that the interim measure of moving to functional airspace blocks—as has been mentioned, we now have one for the British Isles that is controlled by Britain—will provide most of the benefits that we hope to gain from the single European sky without many of the pitfalls.
We are being asked to hand over considerable control over airspace, airport capacity, aviation policy and, by extension, environmental policy. For reasons that I made clear at the outset, I shall not ask my colleagues to oppose the measure at this stage; we still support the principle behind it. However, I ask the Committee, and particularly the Government, to think long and hard about the implications of much of the detail. My colleagues and I will be watching carefully to see how the project develops.
5.46 pm
Mark Hunter: When the single Europe sky was introduced in 2002, it was supported by my colleagues. We made only a few caveats, the main one being a guarantee that the programme would not allow the loss of any military sovereignty. Again, we broadly welcome the proposals before the Committee. We believe that they will allow us to continue and improve on what the single European sky agreement originally set out to achieve—the harmonisation of European aviation safety and air traffic management systems.
European airspace is currently divided into some 650 sectors that manage 28,000 flights a day to and from about 130 airports. There can be a large number of planes in the air at the same time, and they need to be controlled and managed across the different blocks as efficiently as possible to minimise delays and ensure safety. According to European Union figures, delays in 2007 totalled more than 1.5 million minutes, with 22 per cent. of all delays exceeding 15 minutes. We clearly need to do more to ensure that delays are minimised and that efficiency is increased, so that passengers taking flights for business or pleasure can do so in the knowledge that they will arrive safely and on time.
However, we need to be clear about why we want to improve efficiency of air travel. Is it to reduce delays, increase capacity or improve safety? Globally, the number of flights is increasing year on year. In the EU, it increased by 5 per cent. in 2007. I think that we would all acknowledge that some short-haul flights could be made by less environmentally costly alternatives such as high-speed rail, but it is not for us to determine what other European countries should do. However, we believe that the UK should focus on improving the efficiency of flights within our current capacity, and we therefore have not supported further expansion at Heathrow or elsewhere.
We should do all that we can to ensure that flights have the smallest possible impact and effect on the wider environment. Increasing efficiency would reduce carbon emissions. According to the EU, aircraft are on average flying nearly 50 km further than necessary due to airspace fragmentation. Such delays often lead to planes having to stack, thus causing further unnecessary pollution.
I am pleased that environmental considerations are mentioned in the performance regulations. I would be interested to know whether the Minister can say more about targets, particularly annual binding targets, and whether noise pollution will be considered as well as other emissions.
I am pleased that the single European sky agreement plans to expand and improve the harmonisation of safety standards across Europe. Safety regulations work only if it is clear who is responsible for ensuring the safety of the different aspects of aviation. As the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley—who also represents a seat in close proximity to Manchester airport—said, the disaster there is still all too clear in the memories of many local residents and others who lost loved ones in that tragedy.
However, I join the Government in their concern that including smaller recreational aerodromes in EASA’s remit might adversely affect the commercial viability of such aerodromes. I invite the Minister to tell us what progress has been made in the negotiations mentioned in the explanatory memorandum attached to the briefing about the changes in definition, so that such aerodromes would not necessarily be included and be subject to the adverse effects that we suspect could occur.
Liberal Democrat Members support the single European sky initiative, albeit with the caveats mentioned. We are pleased that it is looking for ways to improve and deliver the best possible aviation service. It is now vital that all member states, not just the UK, act with enough political will to ensure that the proposals are followed up, not only for the customer, but for the environment.
5.51 pm
I will resist the temptation to debate Heathrow, but my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley is absolutely right about the fact that aircraft will still fly if we close Heathrow to them by not ensuring that it can accept the additional capacity that it clearly needs, given that it operates at 98.5 per cent. capacity. I have a high regard for the hon. Member for Canterbury as an individual Member and an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, so I say with the greatest respect that, if he honestly believes that restricting Heathrow’s ability to function will not have an impact on Heathrow and, therefore, on the UK economy, he is much mistaken.
Mr. Brazier: The Minister and the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley must surely recognise the point about substituting rail journeys for internal flights. We have notoriously bad public transport connections to Heathrow. If, as Conservative Members propose, we had a high-speed rail link so that people could get off a plane, perhaps with a unified ticket as people can do in France and Germany, and straight on to a train from the terminal to, for example, the hon. Gentleman’s home city of Manchester, rather than flying there, that would be good for tackling climate change and good for Heathrow.
Jim Fitzpatrick: We have seen a reversal in the past 10 years of the numbers of people flying to Heathrow and catching the train to Heathrow because of the lobbying by hon. Members from Manchester and the investment that has been put into the west coast main line. It used to be two thirds flying and one third going by rail; it is now the complete reverse. We have been trying to give individuals the opportunity to make the right choice for them. If all UK domestic flights were absorbed into rail capacity, that would have no impact on Heathrow. The pressure for additional slots at Heathrow would mean that they were taken up straight away. If you will allow me to say so, Mr. Benton, a false calculation has been put forward that we can eliminate domestic flights—that somehow a high-speed rail link will solve the problem.
Mr. Brazier: Will the Minister give way?
Jim Fitzpatrick: In a minute. Heathrow is our hub airport. Two thirds to three quarters of the domestic flyers to Heathrow are catching international connections. [Interruption.]
The Chairman: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes, may I add a cautionary note? We are not here to discuss the merits of Heathrow airport or the additional runway. I will allow the intervention and then can we get back to the meat of the business?
Jim Fitzpatrick: My final comment on that subject is that the hon. Gentleman knows that we are investing £88 million a week in rail and that Network Rail is exploring other options to improve the rail network even beyond the achievements of the past 10 years. Heathrow is our hub airport. If it is not functioning, the UK economy takes a hit. However, Mr. Benton, you have cautioned us against going any further. There is a clear blue sky between us on Heathrow capacity and who supports the business community and the UK economy.
The hon. Member for Canterbury asked about parliamentary scrutiny of national performance plans and corrective measures. It is too early to pre-empt the process because these plans are not yet finalised or even established. However, if they require legislation, there must be parliamentary scrutiny. If they can reasonably be achieved through existing processes and regulation, obviously that would be our preferred option.
The hon. Gentleman raised the environment and activity in three different areas. On the emissions trading scheme, we need an economic measure in the absence of fuel tax. That will be complemented by single sky, which will improve performance, and by technology through SESAR, and better engines and aircraft design. He also asked how the projected threefold increase in aircraft sits with reducing emissions. Clearly, the measures outlined will help. Increased traffic will be subject to tighter environmental constraints on engine technology. SESAR will allow aircraft to fly more direct routes and planned flights using time-critical arrivals to reduce or eliminate holding. SESAR will enable better approach procedures. All that will contribute to shorter routes, less fuel burn, fewer emissions, less noise and less visual intrusion.
The hon. Gentleman asked about TC north, which is an entirely valid question, given how topical and controversial it is. This package has no impact on TC north, as I said earlier. However, in future we would obviously co-ordinate big changes such as TC north with neighbouring countries, just as, for example, we would expect the French to consult us if they were changing routes over north-west France and the Calais region.
Mr. Brazier: The Minister said so implicitly, but could he confirm that that means that the local consultation and accountability in the current process would continue unchanged?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The accountability is with NATS and the CAA. They will make a decision on TC north. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the decision will come through in due course. Sadly, I am not in a position to offer him any certainty about the length of time that that will take, given how controversial it has been and the volume of respondents to the consultative exercise.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether the Department had done any modelling of the approach and take-off routes at major airports. Trial work has been done by many agencies, including NATS and Eurocontrol. The SESAR research and development project calls for this work to be undertaken. NATS has a strong input into the development of terminal airspace in the SESAR project. NATS is a very strong player and is heavily involved in SESAR, using its extensive expertise, as I am sure he would appreciate.
The hon. Members for Cheadle and for Canterbury asked about the impact on general aviation. We will try to ensure that appropriate and proportionate regulations are put in place to protect all air transport users, including in general aviation. This emphasis on proportionality is reflected in the Commission’s proposal, which seeks to exclude from the aerodrome licensing requirements smaller airfields serving recreational aircraft. We have been consulting representatives of general aviation, including the General Aviation Awareness Council, the British Business and General Aviation Association, the British Gliding Association and the Light Aircraft Association. The negotiations have not started yet on the EASA regulations—they are due to start in late October.
The hon. Member for Cheadle asked whether EASA will cover noise. Noise has an environmental impact and it will be considered as part of the single sky, but we are not sure at what level it will be tackled or in what detail. There is another EU regulation on noise of a general nature, which is being reviewed to see whether it can be tightened up. The hon. Gentleman also asked about annual binding targets. Targets will begin with a limited number of areas where data and information exist or can be gathered. Environment is one of those areas and we will look at emissions, noise and visual intrusion. The exact detail of the targets has not been finalised yet, which I am sure does not surprise him.
It is clear from the comments made by the Opposition spokesmen that there is support for the motion and I am grateful for that, but it is equally clear from the comments and questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley and others that there is a lot of work to be done. This is a complex area; we will all examine it as closely as possible and I shall certainly do what I can to keep the Opposition informed of developments, to ensure appropriate attention to their interest in this matter. As I said, I am grateful for the general support for the motion, and we will get on with the work that is required of us.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee takes note of European Union Documents Nos. 11325/08, Commission Communication on Single European Sky II, towards more sustainable and better performing aviation, 11347/08 and Addendum 1, Commission Staff Working Document accompanying the Communication on Single European Sky II, the SESAR Master Plan for the development and implementation of the new generation European air traffic management system (SESAR -Single European Sky ATM Research), 11323/08 and Addenda 1 and 2, Draft Regulation amending Regulations (EC) No. 549/2004, No. 550/2004, No. 551/2004 and No. 552/2004 in order to improve the performance and sustainability of the European aviation system, 11285/08 and Addenda 1 and 2, Draft Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 216/2008 in the field of aerodromes, air traffic management and air navigation services and repealing Council Directive 06/23/EEC; and endorses the Government’s approach to discussions on these documents.
Committee rose at two minutes past Six o’clock.

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