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Lord Brett: Did the noble Lord raise this issue at the time with the Civil Aviation Authority or National Air Traffic Services?

Lord Trefgarne: I confess that I did not write a letter to the chairman of NATS at the time. I am not sure whether he would want to bother himself with letters from individual pilots.

Lord Clinton-Davis: The noble Lord makes a point of generality. He must not do that unless he feels that there is a case where a difference of rule is being applied at Stansted from that at Gatwick and Heathrow. If so, it is a serious matter and it is incumbent not only on the noble Lord but also on others to ensure that that point of view is made clear to NATS and to the Civil Aviation Authority.

Lord Trefgarne: I can assure both noble Lords that the point I make has been represented to NATS over and over again. In answer to the earlier intervention, I confess that it is not my representations to NATS that I wish to take into account. I believe that the problem is caused by financial considerations imposed by NATS which will be made worse by the provisions of the Bill. My amendment asks the CAA and the Secretary of State to have regard to the needs of those whose aircraft are operated other than for the purposes of hire and reward. I hope that it will address the problem.

I give Stansted as an example but no doubt there are others. NATS does not provide air traffic services for all aerodromes but it does operate in many around the country. The services at Luton, which is nearby, are not provided by NATS but those at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted are. Heathrow and Gatwick appear to operate entirely satisfactorily and without difficulty as regards general aviation. By contrast, Stansted does not. I do not know the reason and I hope that the Minister does.

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I hope that we can impose appropriate duties on the CAA and the Secretary of State which will ensure that they have regard to the interests of the users of small aircraft. I beg to move.

Viscount Goschen: I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. I, too, have tabled amendments in this group. They are all aimed at ensuring that the interests of general aviation are properly taken into account by the Government, by the Civil Aviation Authority and by the licensee, whoever that may be.

I must begin by declaring an interest as the holder of a private pilot's licence and the owner of a rather aged aircraft.

The points raised by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne in relation to Stansted were good examples of the concerns of the general aviation community. We should not underestimate the importance of general aviation to this country. Together with military training, GA is responsible for the new generation of pilots taking up employment with airlines and air taxi firms, becoming instructors and sometimes going on to fly for the Armed Forces.

This country has a strong reputation in the aviation industry; indeed, I believe that we are world leaders. I also believe that we are well served by the CAA and by NATS. All categories of aircraft and pilots receive good service from the air traffic controllers and NATS has a high reputation in that regard. However, the proposals in the Bill make fundamental changes to the way in which air traffic control services are delivered within this country.

My amendments and those moved by my noble friend would ensure that the Government take full account of the needs of general aviation. The issue, which may seem merely a technical one related to access to Class D airspace, can be summarised simply. All pilots recognise that, where appropriate, they must take control from air traffic controllers. They look to the controllers to offer them fair access when that is safe and appropriate. The system has always worked well within the United Kingdom.

However, responsible bodies, such as those which represent pilots of light aircraft, gliders and hang gliders and all other flying interests, are concerned that, unless strict safeguards are included in the new arrangements, their interests might be put to one side. They are concerned that the licensee might consider general aviation to be an irritation which should take second place to commercial aviation. I do not believe that there are legitimate grounds for a dispute. The Civil Aviation Authority and NATS recognise the importance of GA. With the exception of Stansted, the balance as it is currently struck seems to work well.

Under the new arrangements, the current duties of the Director of Airspace Policy will be subsumed within the Civil Aviation Authority. The licensee--the new NATS company and operator of the air traffic control services--will be obliged to perform under the licence given to it by the Civil Aviation Authority. However, if the CAA decides that a particular piece of

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airspace should be given a particular classification, it should be made clear that it is the duty of the licensee to administer that airspace accordingly. The CAA, having taken into account safety issues, the level of traffic and all the representations made to it, will have given a classification and the airspace should be administered accordingly.

I hope that the Minister will give the Committee and aviators at large some comfort. I also hope that he considers general aviation to be important and that it should be treated fairly. The Bill should provide the CAA with a duty to have due regard to the interests of general aviation and the power to ensure that the licensee administers the airspace in accordance with its classification.

My Amendment No. 102 ensures that, in taking those matters into account, the CAA has regard not only to the type of aircraft but also to the type of aviator. The two are not one and the same because one type of aircraft might be used for professional or private purposes or for training. Therefore, I hope that my small and modest amendment is acceptable to the Minister. No doubt my drafting is in error and his will be superior, but I hope that he can give the Committee a strong assurance.

The Viscount of Oxfuird: I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. I, too, have been involved in aviation; both I and my father have flown aircraft. I believe that it is vital to have as free access as possible to the air traffic control system.

I remember being short of fuel while flying over France and having to make an emergency landing at Bentwaters. That was facilitated by our good liaison with the American Air Force which owned the base. The feeling of relief when I landed, having been controlled totally throughout that period, was an endless pleasure. That was despite the fact that, having parked the aircraft, someone approached me with a machine gun and asked me who I was! That had nothing to do with the incident.

General aviation has a strong place in this country. It always has had and it must be respected and protected.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: I do not have an interest to declare in this matter, although it might be argued that I should have. However, I have received a letter from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association which echoes the concerns expressed by my noble friends. Until I received the letter, I was unaware that there are more than 8,500 general aviation aircraft in this country, excluding microlights and gliders. I also understand that the gliding community is concerned about some of the aspects of the Bill.

The main concern of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association relates to the duties of the Director of Airspace Policy. In particular, the Bill clearly sets out what the Government expect from the DAP in relation to the use of any particular airspace or of airspace generally. While it is the DAP's belief that those are sensible provisions, and it is right that they should be

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included in the Bill, what is missing gives cause for concern. It is my belief that the CAA and the DAP will be able to meet the Government's requirements only if they have the necessary regulatory powers. At present, there is nothing in the Bill or elsewhere which provides the CAA with such powers.

I ask the Minister to take account of those concerns and to note the position of general aviation. I also ask for an assurance from the Government that there will be continued free access to the UK airspace system for general aviation. And I ask the Minister to explain how the regulator--the DAP--can exercise his duties without regulatory powers. I also hope that the Minister can give me an assurance that the air navigation order will be amended to provide the DAP with regulatory powers in a timely manner so that it coincides with whatever happens in the future with regard to national air traffic services.

4 p.m.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, made a point about Stansted which I shall certainly note. Through Amendments Nos. 2 and 13 he seeks to have it stated explicitly that the duty of the Secretary of State and the CAA is to further the interests of users of air traffic services, and that extends to leisure flyers.

We believe that the phrase,

    "operators and owners of aircraft",

is in no way limited to commercial flyers. It embraces all and any owner or operator of all and any type of aircraft, and thus encompasses both commercial and leisure flyers. However, the drafting that we have already amply covers the point on which the noble Lord seeks reassurance. Therefore, I believe that the noble Lord's amendments are unnecessary.

With regard to Amendment No. 102, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, spoke so persuasively, Clause 70(1)(b) provides that the CAA must exercise its air navigation functions in the manner it considers is best calculated to satisfy the requirements of operators and owners, again, of all classes of aircraft. Amendment No. 102 seeks to widen the description of those whose requirements the CAA must satisfy to include all classes of aircraft user.

I recognise the point that the noble Viscount makes. We appreciate that it is important that the interests of the general aviation community and, indeed, of all categories of user are taken into account. We have touched already on the importance of continuing to ensure that there is no discrimination between different classes of user of air traffic services. It is not part of our intention in the Bill to create an adverse impact for anyone involved in aviation. We expect the CAA, in the exercise of its air navigation functions, to look after general aviation alongside commercial, military and other interests.

I believe that that is the assurance which the noble Viscount seeks and I am very happy to give it. However, the point is already provided for in the Bill. In addition to Clause 70(1)(b), to which I referred just now and which deals with the requirements of

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operators and owners, there is also a requirement in Clause 70(1)(c) for the Civil Aviation Authority to take account of the interests of any other person in relation to the use of airspace. I am confident that the interests of all classes of user, and quite clearly those in general aviation, are protected by the duties laid on the CAA by this clause. Therefore, I feel that the noble Viscount's amendment may also be unnecessary.

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