Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

3.48 p.m.

Lord Strathcarron: My Lords, I rise to support the Unstarred Question asked by my noble friend Lord Rotherwick on the provisions and facilities of aerodromes. I should like to declare an interest as I am chairman of Kent International Airport, which is still referred to by many by its old name of Manston, a famous fighter base during the Battle of Britain which was subsequently adapted to become an emergency landing field for aircraft in trouble. Having a very long and wide runway and an unobstructed approach from the sea, it was very suitable for that purpose. It was one of the few airfields to have a fog dispersal system, known as Fido, which consisted of 75,000 gallons of petrol spread either side of the runway in the form of a ditch. In foggy weather the petrol was ignited and the intense heat dispersed the fog sufficiently for an aircraft to land. Needless to say, it was abandoned after the war as being too expensive to continue.

I have always taken a keen interest in general aviation, having flown during the war and only having to stop flying 10 years ago for medical reasons.

There has always been a need for airfields near major cities to cater for business aircraft and private flying in general. They have now become more important than ever, as major airports are being extended, with new terminal buildings--for example, possibly a fifth terminal at Heathrow and a second runway at Manchester. With ever-increasing numbers of scheduled and chartered flights, the business aircraft will be squeezed out more and more. It seems strange that only 25 years ago a private pilot could land at Gatwick to clear customs and there was no landing fee at all to pay. It concentrated the mind when air traffic control would ask one to expedite one's landing--which means, in flying jargon, "For God's sake, hurry up"--because there was a Boeing 707 on final approach. Soon, unfortunately, those days were to end and very high landing fees virtually eliminated the possibility of light aircraft, private aircraft certainly, using Gatwick.

31 Jul 1997 : Column 377

On the Continent and in France, in particular, there are well equipped airfields near most of the larger industrial areas. But it is better not to land between 12 noon and 2 p.m., as one would be lucky to find anyone in air traffic control or customs or anyone to refuel the aircraft. There is an excellent general aviation airfield at Cannes-Mandelieu on the French Riviera, which eases pressure on the nearby Nice airport.

The London area would benefit from a suitable airfield for business and private flying, with easy access to London. Farnborough comes to mind as suitable and as an airfield which could easily be developed for that purpose. Unfortunately, Hatfield, which would have been another suitable airfield, has already been closed. A few years ago, the north lost Sunderland Airport to make way for the Nissan car manufacturing plant, and northern regions certainly should not be neglected.

I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give their support to encourage general aviation airfields to the benefit of business and to ease the congestion at major airports.

3.52 p.m.

Lord Norton: My Lords, I thank the House for allowing me to speak in the gap. I only appreciated this morning that the subject was being debated. I speak from the standpoint of the private pilot. I declare an interest as a private pilot with some 1,200 hours flying time, although I must admit that most of those hours were flown on the Continent.

The very large airports have the facilities but no enthusiasm for the private pilot. That is quite understandable, given the enormous pressure of commercial activities. But it is at the other smaller commercial airports that I consider improvements can be made for the private pilot wishing to travel from one commercial centre to another.

The medium-sized airports--those with spare capacity--so far as I have experienced, have very little enthusiasm for the private pilot. The private pilot is a nuisance. Private pilots do not bring in jumbo-sized fees by way of landing charges, handling, maintenance, catering etc. I suspect that they are also considered more of a security risk. I shall make a specific recommendation about that later.

So, the private pilot represents low income. But, so far as the airport is concerned, exactly the same radio calls are made to land a large jumbo or a small light aircraft. Price is used to dissuade the private pilot from using the facilities at the commercial airports. To give just a small example, recently I had to divert from Coventry to Birmingham, having just missed the closedown of Coventry for the day. The price of landing and overnight stay at Coventry was £21, but at Birmingham it was £47. That included a £17 handling charge, for which no handling services were required. It is cheaper for me to land at Geneva, Paris, Marseille or Berlin than Birmingham, and in every case the facilities are as good or superior.

What are the special facilities or provisions that the private pilot requires? The most important is a realistic price for the facilities; the second is an enthusiasm for

31 Jul 1997 : Column 378

the private pilot. Otherwise, the demands of the private pilot are few. Strangely enough, one of the most important requirements is to have signs for easy access to the facilities available. That prevents private pilots being a nuisance because they do not know how to reach the facilities which are available. Airports are complex places to find one's way around. Signs are important. They also improve security.

Every airport has facilities such as weather forecasting, fuel and flight planning that will already be required for the commercial operators. There is no reason why the same facilities should not be used by the private as well as the commercial pilot, as happens all over the Continent. On the subject of security, perhaps I may suggest to the Government that they look at the possibility of having photographs on pilot licences. At present, there are airports such as Southampton which use the licence as a security document. That is ridiculous as it has no photograph and no ready means of identifying the person who is holding the licence.

What are the benefits? They are, first, increased revenue to the airports from increased use; secondly, a corresponding reduction on the pressures that exist on the smaller flying strips; and, thirdly, a greater ease of travel for the private pilot through the use of airport communication infrastructures. The small airfield communication facilities either by road or rail are frequently poor. What is required is an enthusiasm for private flying by the commercial airports from which the pilots and airports could benefit.

3.56 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rotherwick for asking this Unstarred Question. It is a little unfortunate that the timing of it has reduced the number of noble Lords available to contribute when compared to the similar debate that he initiated earlier this year. It makes it difficult for me to respond to or amplify his observations and those of other noble Lords. My noble friend Lord Strathcarron and the noble Lord, Lord Norton, made valuable comments. But it must be harder still for the Minister to respond.

There is much to be said for revisiting this issue as we have a new government and an integrated transport review in progress. We also now have one department, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, responsible for transport as well as for the environment. Many of the points raised concern the balance to be struck between the requirements of general aviation and the implications for the environment. We shall have to see whether the DETR is in fact manageable and what advantage the Government are able to take of it.

My noble friend Lord Rotherwick mentioned the problems of Ipswich, Hatfield and West Malling. My noble friend also raised the problem of local authorities' planning decisions impinging upon matters which are properly and indeed legally the preserve of the CAA. He particularly drew your Lordships' attention to the situation in South Cambridgeshire County Council. The

31 Jul 1997 : Column 379

council did not even consult the CAA before introducing changes. My noble friend has explained the situation in detail. I do not propose to repeat what he said.

The CAA is an internationally highly regarded regulatory authority and, quite properly, is legally responsible for regulating all safety matters, in particular take-off, circuit and landing routes for aerodromes. I recall a similar incursion by local authorities outside of their remit during the implementation of the night and weekend lorry ban in London. The desirability of that ban is a separate issue, but the local authorities were inviting--a polite way of putting it--operators to interfere with their vehicles' EU-type approved braking systems by fitting airbrake silencers in order to reduce the noise. We now seem to have a similar problem of adventurous local authorities interfering in matters properly in the domain of the CAA. I have to confess to being technically a little weak when it comes to aviation matters but it seems to me that anything to do with civil aircraft design, maintenance or operation should be the strict preserve of the experts at the CAA. I am sure the Minister will not dispute that.

My noble friend Lord Rotherwick also suggested that some local authorities are attempting to cut back, or at least to hold to a standstill, general aviation facilities for environmental reasons. I hope that the Minister, while understanding the concerns of local authorities, will want to allow the continued development of general aviation.

My noble friend Lord Strathcarron and the noble Lord, Lord Norton, also raised the problem of business aviation at major airports and the availability of landing slots and their cost. There is a difficult balance to be struck here. On the one hand, I am sure that the new Government's instincts will not suit the convenience of an international playboy. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Norton, qualifies as an international playboy. On the other hand, if they are indeed the party of business, they will recognise the real economic value to be attached to the time of a chief executive of a major international--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page