HC Deb 04 May 1970 vol 801 cc145-68

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Concannon.]

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick)

I am grateful to have the opportunity of discussing on the Adjournment the arrangements for monitoring aircraft noise at London Airport—[Interruption.]—although it has come rather earlier than I had anticipated—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has the Adjournment. I want to hear him.

Mr. Barnes

I want to begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Minister of State upon the progress which has been made with noise certification in respect of new jet aircraft coming into service. This is undoubtedly the way in which the problem of aircraft noise has to be tackled in the future. However. in saying that, one must remember that the benefits of noise certification are very much in the future. Existing aircraft, especially some of the noisier jet aircraft such as the Boeing 707 and the VC10, will be in service for a long time to come. If we are to control the amount of noise made by those aircraft, it will only be done by forcing them to conform to standards and making sure that the monitoring of those standards is effective.

I propose to concentrate on the noise created by aircraft arriving at London Airport rather than by those taking off. That is not to say that the noise caused by aircraft taking off is less serious than that caused by aircraft arriving. In fact, the former noise is much more acute, though in the main, only people living fairly near Heathrow are affected, because aircraft climb away quite steeply after take-off. However, those affected by it suffer tremendous disturbance, and perhaps I might refer in passing to the increased noise which has been suffered by people living in the Englefield Green area since the introduction of new routes last March. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider this, since he gave me a reassuring answer to a Question last March about the beneficial effect that the new routes were likely to have on that area. That assurance does not seem to have been borne out in the event, and I hope that he will look at the problem again.

I come now to the main problem with which I want to deal, and that is the noise caused by aircraft as they approach and land at Heathrow. The present system of monitoring consists of a check on about 5 per cent. of all arrivals. The proportion of infringements which the Board of Trade found in the last quarter of 1969 amounted to 0. 3 per cent. This, of course, is a very small number of infringements and one to which the Board of Trade gives considerable publicity, but because this is a measurement of the percentage of deviations from the three-degree glide slope into London Airport it is rather misleading because it is not very meaningful.

The glide slope is a three-degree angle up from the runway at Heathrow. Aircraft normally intercept this glide slope at a distance of between five and seven nautical miles from the point of touchdown. That, roughly, is the distance of my constituency from Heathrow. In the case of aircraft which join the glide slope at the nearer limit of five nautical miles from touchdown, this could be over Brentford. This means that there is no check on the behaviour of aircraft when they are further out, over Chiswick, which is next door to Brentford, Hammersmith, Putney, Chelsea or other areas of West London affected by aircraft when they are arriving at Heathrow in a westerly direction. Because there is no check on behaviour of aircraft coming in further away there is no check on the amount of noise they are creating.

When aircraft join the glide path at the further limit, Chiswick would be covered because it is about seven nautical miles from Heathrow, but again it would mean that those other areas of West London to which I have referred were not covered by this measurement. The first reason I have for saying that the present system of measuring the noise of arriving aircraft is not very meaningful is therefore that it tells us nothing about the amount of noise which people who live just outside the points at which aircraft join the glide slope have to put up with.

The second reason is that, once aircraft have locked on to this three-degrees angle of slope to Heathrow, it would be rather bad, if not dangerous, flying to deviate from that three-degree glide slope. This is why the figures which the Board of Trade publishes are so infinitesimal, 0. 3 per cent. or 0. 2 per cent. whatever they average at present. If this is meant to be a measurement of the amount of disturbance which people immediately under the glide slope are suffering say in Isle-worth, Heston or Hounslow immediately near the airport, it is pretty inevitable and there will be only marginal deviations.

What is much more relevant is the height at which aircraft are flying when they join the glide slope, because they will fly at that height for some distance before intercepting the glide slope and will be at that height over a considerable area of West London. The impression has been given, certainly the impression which the Parliamentary Commissioner got in the report published in 1967, which is the same impression as that given by the Board of Trade booklet "Action Against Aircraft Noise" published last year, is that aircraft do not join the glide slope at a height of less than 2,000 ft. Although that impression has been given, from correspondence I had with the Board of Trade, and which a constituent has had recently with the Board of Trade, it is clear that aircraft joining the glide slope at the nearer limit of five nautical miles from the point of touchdown join at a height of 1,500 ft. They therefore will be flying over my constituency at 1,500 ft. and they will be at a correspondingly lower level over the whole of the rest of the West London area about which I have been talking.

This point is illustrated in a letter which this constituent of mine received from Mr. Arthur Vine of the Board of Trade. Mr. Vine said at one point in his letter: The ideal turn on point "— that is the turn on point to the glide slope— is 7 nautical miles out, but at busier periods some have to be turned on closer in, and may thus cross Chiswick at 1,500 ft. instead of rather higher. The question which is in the minds of my constituents is: how often does this happen? The impression people have in Brentford and Chiswick is that, particularly in the summer, particularly at the busy points in the year, particularly at the time of the year which we are just approaching, this is happening increasingly frequently. One does not need to live under the approach to London Airport for long to be able to judge fairly accurately when an aircraft comes over at 500 ft. or so lower than most other aircraft do.

My right hon. Friend told me in reply to a Question on 25th March that the number of aircraft intercepting the glide slope at a height of 1,500 ft. rather than 2,000 ft. was of the order of 2 per cent. My right hon. Friend would find it hard to convince my constituents of that.

The same constituent received a letter from Mr. J. D. Lay of the Civil Aviation Divisional Office of the Board of Trade at Heston Aerodrome, saying: It may therefore be that the aircraft to which you refer were being turned on to the extended centre line of the runway at about six miles "— Mr. Lay is using ordinary miles, not nautical miles, I think— and were therefore cleared to descend to 1,500 ft. although the more normal procedure is for aircraft to join the glide path at anything from 8 miles out. It is fair to say that the implication of Mr. Vine's letter and of Mr. Lay's letter is that this turning on to the glide slope of aircraft at the nearer limit to the point of touchdown probably happens much more often than the figure 2 per cent. would suggest. Mr. Lay talks about "the more normal procedure" being for airacraft to join the glide slope further out. It one were talking about 98 per cent. as opposed to 2 per cent., one would hardly use the words "the more normal", although one might use that phrase if the figures one was talking about were 60 per cent. as opposed to 40 per cent. or 75 per cent. as opposed to 25 per cent.

My constituents will require much more evidence and much more convincing from my right hon. Friend if he is to get them to accept that the figure of 2 per cent. is the real figure. Nor would they accept that the aircraft that join the glide slope nearer in and which therefore fly at the lower level of 1,500 ft. are the more old-fashioned propeller-driven type aircraft. The daily evidence that people living in this part of London have is that jet aircraft— 707s and VCIOs—can be seen coming in clearly at a lower level than most other arrivals.

We know that Heathrow will become much busier with each year that passes and will continue to become busier until London gets its third airport. Presumably as Heathrow becomes busier this will entail more and more aircraft joining the glide slope at this nearer limit of 5 nautical miles out and, therefore, flying over West London at the lower level of 1,500 ft. rather than 2,000 ft. I put it to my hon. Friend that as it becomes clear to people living in the area that this is what is happening, the present system of monitoring the noise caused by arriving aircraft will seem very inadequate.

The Parliamentary Commissioner, in his report in 1967, was fairly critical of the way in which the monitoring of arriving aircraft is carried out. I suggest that the time has now come to try to improve this system for monitoring arriving aircraft. I am therefore asking my hon. Friend whether he will institute a height check of a similar percentage of arriving aircraft prior to interception with the three degree glide slope, as well as the glide slope measurement itself. My hon. Friend would then have the figures that he needs to exercise the control that, in my view, definitely needs to be exercised over the number of aircraft which are permitted to fly over West London before reaching the glide slope at this level of 1,500 ft.

It is not just the operators, the airlines, who need to be controlled and supervised in this way. Air traffic control itself really needs controlling in the number of flights that it is permitted to instruct to join the glide slope at the nearer point to Heathrow and which, therefore, necessitate aircraft coming in at 1,500 ft. instead of 2,000 ft.

My hon. Friend has a very difficult task here. He is not just air traffic controller, in one sense, himself. The other very important part of his job is to control what the air traffic controllers are allowed to do. I therefore suggest that if the situation in the future, as Heathrow becomes busier, is not to become intolerable for people living in this part of London, it is necessary to have a height check of this kind. This would make the whole system of monitoring arrivals much more foolproof than it is at the moment. It is something for which all those who live in this part of West London and who have to endure this problem day by day and night by night would be grateful, if the Government could agree to institute it, because they would feel that their interests were being looked after much better than they feel is happening at present.

9.32 p.m.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Far be it for me to complain when we get a bonus of this kind and an unexpected opportunity to debate a matter of such close interest to our hearts, but it would have been nice to have a bit of warning. I had hoped to intervene briefly in this Adjournment debate which the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) was lucky to get, but I thought that I could safely wait a little while to collect my notes and prepare my speech. As it is, I can promise the Minister that I shall not detain him very long tonight.

I take issue with the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick on a couple of points. He said that he believed that Heathrow would continue to get busier until London's third airport was constructed. It would be much more true to say that Heathrow will continue to get busier for another four years and that then it will not get any busier because it will have become saturated. When London's third airport exists, Heathrow will not become less busy. It will remain precisely as busy then as it will be by 1974. There is no comfort in the advent of London's third airport in the sense that the hon. Gentleman implied, namely, that it will mean a sudden slackening in the pace at Heathrow.

It is important that people should understand the true dimensions of the problem. There is no future date at which we can say there will be fewer aircraft coming into Heathrow. What we can look forward to is the date when aircraft coming into Heathrow will be a great deal quieter than they are now.

The second point on which I take issue with the hon. Gentleman is his statement that there is a small number of tribesmen living in a place called Englefield Green, who are the only people who care about noise made by aircraft taking off. I can assure him that there are other remote hill areas stretching, for example, from West Byfleet to Camberley where noise made at the time of take-off is much resented by some of the population and can scarcely avoid being noticed by the rest of us who live nearby.

Having had some experience of living under take-off and approach paths, I assure the House that the intensity of noise at the take-off end is greater; and I hope that nobody feels that the noise level experienced at Chiswick is necessarily the same as the noise level experienced at, say, Chobham, where I happen to live.

I am nevertheless grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having raised this subject, and there are a number of questions which I hope the Minister will answer. First, when we talk about the nuisance which aircraft can cause—and there is no doubt that excessive noise from aircraft is a nuisance—we might just as well include the question of smoke emission by aircraft. It seems that this is becoming a more serious problem as time goes by. Perhaps, in due course, the Minister will explain what control procedures he has under consideration.

Secondly, the Minister has instituted a monitoring system for take-offs, and this is particularly useful in seeing that there are not infringements by night, when infringements are most offensive. Recently I asked a Question on this particular issue and, in his answer, the Minister gave some details of the airlines which are the principal offenders in this repect. He also gave cases where the infringements could be attributed to work on runways or resulting from weather conditions, and these obviously mitigate the offence in those instances.

When all due allowance has been made, it still seems to me that one or two airlines are offending more frequently than they should. What happens when there are infringements? Is the pilot responsible asked to explain why his aircraft made more noise than it should have made? What, if any, disciplinary action is taken when a pilot commits this offence? I understand that in, for example, New York when there has been an infringement the pilot must go through a form of inquisition to discover the cause of the offence.

I know that the Minister is anxious, wherever possible, to minimise the inevitable disturbance caused by aircraft taking off, and is making a number of rearrangements of routes so that they will fly over relatively uninhabited country. The minimum noise route is an attractive idea in principle, but he would be ill-advised to over-sell this idea, for two basic reasons.

First, the idea that all aircraft follow a fairly precise and narrow path is erroneous. I am glad that this is so, because the Ministry keeps on moving one of its centre lines nearer to my house. It now has about 400 yards to go before the line goes slap over my roof top.

Fortunately, the actual track of an aircraft following this centre line may vary by half a mile or more in either direction, perhaps because the navigation procedure is not perfect or simply because it is necessary to get that right lateral separation between aircraft taking off at different speeds. There is, therefore, bound to be a degree of diffusion of the path, though this does raise a perplexity in the mind of the public when they see aircraft in places where they do not expect to see them.

Second, minimum noise routes make sense only in the context of most-noisy aeroplanes. There is not much point in forcing a Viscount, a Vanguard or some of the other turbo-prop types still in service, or some of the relatively less noisy straight jet types, to follow minimum noise routes, because they will not be noisy anyway. They should have a greater degree of freedom in the route they follow. Minimum noise routes should be confined to the types, which hon. Members can probably identify without my naming them, which really rattle our windows. Those are the ones to which restrictions should be most closely applied.

The sooner we can move towards a system of area navigation, the better it will be, because then there will be much more possibility of diffusing the whole pattern of aircraft movements and spreading the burden of noise more evenly over a larger area and a larger number of people. This may sound very unattractive, but when I say that I am faced with some indignation at one end of my constituency because of a possible re-routing that should halve the amount of aircraft noise at the other end, the Minister will understand that the problem is likely to be most easy of solution if we accept that the noise should be fairly spread. It would be wrong in principle to put the whole burden of aircraft noise on to a small number of people, and it indeed is almost impossible to do so.

I think that everyone is prepared to put up with a reasonable amount of noise if he is satisfied that everything possible is being done to limit the period of time he has to suffer it, and if he is taken into the Minister's confidence before changes affecting him are made. When the Minister is considering, as I think he is now, changes of route use and of direction— for example, increased use of the Woodley-Midhurst route or another shifting of the route over Chobham Common—he has nothing to lose by telling the local authorities, "This is what I intend to do. Are there any observations you would like to make before I finally make up my mind?". If he did that, if he was prepared to have his Department represented at public meetings where the matter could be discussed, his representative might have a moderately rough passage, but I believe that where his case can be shown to be good—and I think that the Minister would feel that his changes were for the better and therefore that the case was good—it would be very much in the public interest and the interest of his Department that there should be the widest possible diffusion of knowledge about his intentions and their consequences before a final decision was taken.

Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)

Does not my hon. Friend also think that it would be a very good thing if the Minister himself could attend such a meeting and answer questions, which are highly political in tone and would be difficult for one of his officials to answer?

Mr. Onslow

I can assure the Minister that I would make him welcome at any time in my constituency, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) would do the same.

9.44 p.m.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) on speaking so strongly and firmly for his constituents. What he has said is bound to give those of us who have been interested in the progress of aviation for many years plenty to think about. The speed of development of this mode of transport—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It will assist the Chair and the reporters if the hon. Gentleman addresses his hon. Friend through the Chair and not directly.

Mr. Rankin

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. My action was purely involuntary.

My hon. Friend will be fully aware of the speed with which this method of transport has come upon us. I can still vividly recollect the days, not so long ago, when I travelled between Glasgow and London at 90 miles an hour in an aircraft which was always full of people. It was not hard to fill it because it carried only about 10 passengers. Today, the speed of transit on that same route is 600 miles per hour and the journey, which took three and a quarter hours seemingly only a short time ago, now takes 54 minutes. That represents progress, but to attain that progress we had to get an engine which would provide sufficient power to drive the aircraft through the air at a rate which would enable it to do the journey in the 54 minutes it now takes. That power cannot be dissociated from noise.

This situation led to the reaction which came from the people who were still grounded below. They complained, naturally, perhaps at times a little vociferously about the inconvenience of incoming and departing aircraft noise. They suffered. This naturally set the engineer and the technician working to try to produce an engine with power sufficient to maintain a speed of 600 miles an hour while creating less noise. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that the RB211 which is doing the job on our national routes approximates to the idea of how we can control this speed which those who now use aircraft in increasing numbers desire to attain and maintain in their journeys.

Without detracting from the case my hon. Friend has so well put forward, I should point out that noise is something which we get not merely from the air and the aero engine. Around airports, I have heard more shattering noises from motor bicycles than I have yet to hear from an aircraft, and if we are to deal with the problem of noise we have to do so as a problem germane to the type of society in which we live. It is not merely a localised problem of the air, caused by descending or ascending aircraft, but one which is part and parcel of the desire of people to proceed between two points with the greatest possible speed. Whether by air or by road, noise is part and parcel of that development. If we are fair, we will admit that we get as much noise from some road vehicles as we get from aircraft, and while my hon. Friend the Minister of State may not have the same responsibility for road transport as he has for air transport, nevertheless I hope that he will not forget that the noise problem extends beyond aircraft.

Only a few weeks ago, when watching aircraft taking off from London Airport, I first became aware of the amount of pollution caused by some of them. This, too, is associated with power. I assume that it is associated with power not being fully utilised. I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick will agree that pollution which derives from speed also deserves the Minister's urgent attention.

9.51 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) on initiating this Adjournment debate. Little did he imagine when he put his name forward that he would provide an opportunity to his colleagues from other parts of the western area of London and on the other side of the river to take part in debating this subject which is of such great importance to all residents of the area under the glide path to London Airport. Because the Government were defeated by a majority of one tonight, there is this opportunity which has given pleasure to my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who make such a skilful and able speech on behalf of his constituents, and to hon. Members opposite who, although deriving no pleasure from being defeated by the Opposition by a majority of one, will have derived pleasure from taking part in a non-political issue affecting everybody who lives near a major airport, whether Conservatives, Liberals or Members of the Labour Party.

I fully support what the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick said about the importance of a height check before aircraft join the glidepath, or the glide slope, which 1 gather now is the "with-it" term for what was always called the glidepath. Many aircraft joining the glide slope near Hammersmith Bridge on the edge of my constituency often put on more power to climb, having reached the glidepath, thereby causing more noise. Although they are checked six to eight miles out from the threshold of the runway, many aircraft appear to be climbing to make height, having lost it when originally joining the glide slope at too low height.

Another aspect which is audible in part of my constituency over Kew Gardens, which is a national park but where there are nevertheless many residents— incidentally, at this point aircraft are liable to cause nuisance in the constituency of the hon. Member for Brent-ford and Chiswick on the other side of the river—is that many aircraft lower their landing gear and their flaps. This entails an increase in power which again makes more noise. This has created a great deal of disturbance and nuisance over the past few years. I am not sure that there is an easy answer to the latter difficulty, but there is to the former, which is to monitor aircraft before they actually join the glide slope. On this rather technical aspect, I firmly align myself, as I do on all matters connected with aircraft noise, with the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), who is a very old friend of mine on other subjects, always takes part in aviation debates and is a distinguished member of the Labour Party's Aviation Committee. But he does not represent an area affected by aircraft noise to the same extent as the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick and myself—

Mr. Rankin

May I correct the hon. Gentleman's impression? In my Glasgow home I sleep under the path on which an aircraft glides into Glasgow Airport. For a long while I was in the same situation in London.

Mr. Royle

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman suffers to the same extent as my constituents, although I am worried that he should talk of aircraft "gliding" into Glasgow. My constituents and 1 only wish that our aircraft would "glide" into London Airport with the soundlessness which that word suggests rather than joining a glide path, which is not the same thing at all.

The hon. Gentleman raised a question dear to my heart, that of smoke pollution. The Minister has taken a particular interest in this. I get very depressed about the time that the Board of Trade seems to be taking to investigate this problem. Last month, we had a debate about aircraft noise and I mentioned pollution. Because of shortage of time, the Minister could not answer in detail, so I tabled a Question on 23rd April, to ask whether he would include smoke pollution in the Order which was to be debated and which now provides that aircraft approaching major international airports should reach certain standards of noise reduction before being allowed to land.

The Minister answered my Question in the following terms: Research in this country and abroad has indicated that, even near major airports, aircraft exhausts cause less than I per cent. of total atmospheric pollution. If further research investigation should show the need for, and practicability of, establishing smoke standards for aircraft, I shall not hesitate to seek the necessary powers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 23rd April, 1970; Vol. 800, c.161–2] Naturally, I welcome that assurance from a Minister, who is very worried about this matter, but why is it taking so long? The Americans are already bringing in regulations for smoke pollution and have done their homework. Why should we take so much longer to realise that pollution is caused beneath the glide-path of big jet aircraft landing at major airports?

We all know that noise from aircraft coming down the glide slope is not caused by the rear end of the engines, which causes the major noise when an aircraft takes off, but by the front end. This is why the noise from the VC10 is more than the noise on landing from an aircraft like the Comet, in which the engines are set back into the wings so that there is coverage at the front of the engine. But the pollution is caused by the smoke coming from the rear of a jet engine.

Although Rolls-Royce, Pratt and Whitney and other major engine developers, both in this country and the United States—

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed. without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Armstrong.]

Mr. Royle

Although the major engine developers are working very hard on research in this matter, I feel that this country is lagging behind the Americans in trying to discover how extensive is the pollution caused by aircraft flying into the major airports.

Mr. Onslow

It may encourage my hon. Friend to know that I spent part of today at Heathrow, seeing this problem at first hand, and was told that the amount of smoke emitted by American engines is significantly greater than that emitted by Rolls-Royce engines.

Mr. Royle

That confirms my argument. Unfortunately, aircraft with American engines are landing at Heathrow, Gatwick and Prestwick. They are causing significant pollution to fall upon the houses and property of residents. I am glad to have my point confirmed by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking and to know that Rolls-Royce engines are causing significantly less pollution than are American engines. But that does not alter the fact that American engines are causing pollution in this country, and that the American Government and the F.A.A. are taking measures to deal with the problem by way of fairly stiff regulations. Our Government is not.

The time has come for Ministers to think again about this matter and for the United Kingdom to take action to deal with smoke pollution caused by aircraft landing at our international airports. The Minister knows that I have a bee in my bonnet on this subject.

Mr. Rankin

A wasp.

Mr. Royle

It is a wasp—as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan says. I shall keep it buzzing round the Minister's head until he produces an answer.

We have plenty of time tonight. I know that the Minister wishes to give a long and detailed reply to the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan and my hon. Friend the Member for Woking, but I want to mention another factor that gives me cause for grave concern. Those of us who have the honour to represent areas near our great airports and in the outer areas of London are extremely concerned about the safety problem. Never in the ten years that I have been in the House have I pressed Ministers, of whatever political party, to take action concerning aircraft noise that would in any way endanger the safety of aircraft or the safety of those living below the glide path or the take-off routes from London airport. I know that no Minister, of whatever party, would ever take such action. I also know that no pilot would ever endanger his aircraft simply in order to carry out noise regulations. I welcome that fact. I would not wish him to do so. At the same time, I am very concerned about the latest figures relating to air misses. I read that between 1963 and 1969 there have been nine air misses—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I know that we are on the Adjournment, but an hon. Member has chosen as our subject the monitoring of aircraft noise.

Mr. Royle

I realise that, Mr. Speaker, but the monitoring of aircraft noise is closely linked with the subject of air safety because some people—they are few and far between—would like action taken on aircraft noise which might or could endanger the safety of the aircraft, or people living below. I wish to make it plain that I want no part of this, nor do any of my constituents. I am sure that the Minister would like me to make that clear.

The subject of air misses very much concerns the question of our debate tonight. If a major accident took place either over the glidepath or the area covered by the take-off from London Airport it might result in a tragedy on a scale that is not sufficiently realised. I wish to stress that those of us who represent constituencies around airports are very much aware of this fact. It gives all of us—and I am sure that 1 can speak also for the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick—great concern that we should hear so often of many air misses taking place in the London traffic control area.

I have the utmost confidence in the air traffic controllers at London Airport. They are of extremely high calibre, dedicated to their task and their work and they are of an ability second to none in the world today, dealing with a high ratio of international traffic at London Airport.

I also have the highest regard for the Minister's officials at the Board of Trade who look after this side of the Department. I hope, however, that the right hon. Gentleman will at no time cease to keep public opinion aware of the action which he is taking to make certain that no such tragedy, which many of us fear could occur in the London area, ever takes place. I am sure, and I hope and pray, that it never will, but it can be avoided only by the utmost vigilance by the Minister, by his officials and by the people employed in handling air traffic control in the London air traffic control zone and area.

I conclude by stressing again to the Minister the great concern which is felt by so many people living in London about the extent of noise from aircraft, pollution caused by smoke from their engines and also the background feeling, which is there the whole time, of the possible danger as well. This noise seems to increase year by year. I know that the Minister, his officials and his Department are doing all they can to try to find methods to reduce this noise. It is equally important that the public should know what is taking place. It is equally important that the Minister should put over to the public the steps that he and his officials are taking. I beg him to realise that many of the residents who live near our major airports are finding life becoming rapidly more and more intolerable.

Whilst the "with-it" and "in" subject today is pollution and dealing with the environment—that is the sort of subject which, I gather, has replaced Vietnam on the campuses of American universities as the "in" subject—I assure you, Mr. Speaker, who yourself live in an area which is polluted by aircraft noise, that all of us realise what an "in" subject this is here in London. I hope that the Minister will be able tonight to give more hope to those living in the London area who suffer from aircraft noise that there is some prospect that in the future this noise will be reduced.

10.8 p.m.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Goronwy Roberts)

I rise at this point, although I would have been glad to give way to any other hon. Member who might wish to intervene in the debate, because so much of such importance has been said in the various speeches to which I have listened that I should like, with the agreement of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes), to refer to some of the points made by others than himself.

We all listened with great interest to what the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said. I assure him that I have taken close note of every point he has made. I agree with him, for instance, that it is necessary to remind people that the intensity of noise at take-off is, or can be, much more than at the points which are undoubtedly troubled by arrival aircraft. This is not to say that the latter kind of nuisance is not very substantial, but I think this is a point we ought to keep in mind.

Mr. Speaker

I apogolise to the Minister for interrupting, but will he speak up a little?

Mr. Roberts

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I am suffering under the difficulty of a cold.

The hon. Member, like his hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle), mentioned the question of pollution. I am very glad to repeat my own concern about this problem. The fact is that at the moment it is, as compared with pollution emitted by other forms of public transport, very small indeed, something like 1 per cent., as compared with 98 per cent. emitted from road transport. This does not, to my mind, in any way mitigate the actual or the potential danger of this form of pollution, and I want to give this assurance once more, that the necessary research is certainly continuing in this country, in the volume and with the purpose hon. Members on both sides of the House, though perhaps especially the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey, would wish to see it done.

The hon. Member raised the point about the United States having outstripped us in regulating this aspect of aircraft hazard—for pollution certainly is a hazard. They have not yet, of course. introduced regulations. The Federal Aviation Administration has published what it calls "Advance Notice of Proposed Rule Making" which asks questions about standards for pollution without giving any answers. Research is proceeding in both countries, but it would be premature to engage in drawing up regulations, certainly by order in the way which has been suggested. I would assure hon. Members that the pace of research and action in the two countries is by no means disparate, and, indeed, we learn from each other. In relation to the recent order which we jointly carried through this House, I would suggest that it would not have been appropriate to have included a reference to pollution in that order, but once more I say that we do not rule out the possibility of a separate order dealing with pollution as soon as it is clear that it is of a dimension which needs to be treated in this way, and that action is necessary and, at that point, appropriate.

The hon. Member for Woking gave his views on minimum noise routes and the question of diffusion. I am not without sympathy with this view. There are two schools of thought, as he knows. It is very difficult to strike a balance between the two. At the moment we incline to concentration, but in no dogmatic way. He mentioned a route about which I am considering certain adjustments. I am constantly trying to inform myself as to the relative advantages of concentration and diffusion and certainly have no closed mind on that matter. I think that we in this country perhaps proceed best by pragmatism, trying to get the best of two policies. This is the way my mind is working at the moment.

In regard to consultation, I thought I was fairly forthcoming when I replied to the hon. Member's Question on this. I would wish to engage in as full consultation as possible when announcing any change or adjustment of routes.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about what sanctions are applied to pilots who infringe noise regulations. I am advised that, first, officials seek explanations from the airline. The result may be a revision of take-off procedure or a rebuke for the pilot, but any disciplinary action is for the airline and an infringement does not constitute an offence at law. The ultimate sanction would be to deny the use of the airport to the airline that was a persistent offender through its pilots.

Turning to my hon. Friend's closely argued speech, the noise monitoring of jet aircraft taking off from Heathrow is an important part of the arrangements for verifying compliance with the operational requirements for aircraft using the airport that are laid down for the purpose of noise abatement. Monitoring arrangements are related to the procedures that aircraft must follow to comply with requirements made by the Board of Trade and published in theUnited Kingdom Air Pilotby virtue of the powers we have under Section 14 of the Airports Authority Act, 1965. It may be helpful if I summarise and explain the relevant requirements so that the role of monitoring compliance with them can be clearly seen. I will deal first with noise monitoring at take-off, and I know my hon. Friend dwelt mostly on noise arising from arrival.

The first requirement is that a jet aircraft taking off from Heathrow must be operated in such a manner that it attains a height of not less than 1,000 ft. before it reaches the first community under its flight path, that is, when it passes the relevant noise monitoring point. Second, the noise level at that monitoring point must not exceed 110 perceived noise decibels by day or 102 PNdB by night, Third, jet aircraft must thereafter, after attaining this height of 1,000 ft. climb at not less than 500 ft. a minute at power settings calculated to cause a progressively decreasing noise level on the ground under its flight path.

These are the basic requirements to limit the noise at specified noise-sensitive points around the airport under or close to the take-off paths. The monitoring points are chosen with one objective in mind—the protection of the first significant built-up area reached after leaving the airport. Of course, they are closest to the aircraft at its noisiest. It is these communities which otherwise would suffer from excessively high levels of noise generated by aircraft climbing on full power, and to meet these requirements airlines have to work out procedures appropriate to the type of aircraft and the runway in question. Normally the procedures involve a deliberate cut back in power, once the safe altitude of 1,000 feet has been achieved, immediately before the monitoring point. Also, a maximum weight often has to be specified for loading the aircraft which is below its airworthiness maximum.

I am sure many hon. Members have had the experience on transatlantic flights of making an unscheduled landing at Shannon. They may not always have realised that this stop is sometimes necessary because of the noise limits we impose which has meant that the aircraft cannot comply if it has on board all the fuel needed for the full journey. The type of aircraft, the runway and the load must be taken into account in indicating how the aircraft proceeds on take-off. Monitoring does no more than ensure that these limits are not exceeded and that these requirements are complied with. It does not make the aircraft quieter. The noise monitoring arrangements apply only to jet aircraft taking off, when there is a choice of loading and power settings and we can therefore lay down that that choice will be exercised in favour of the people on the ground who would otherwise suffer excessive disturbance. The same choice of operational procedures is not available when aircraft are on the approach to landing. It is to the landing phase of flight that my hon. Friend addressed himself and to which I shall now turn.

In the first place, all large public transport aircraft on approach follow, for safety reasons, standard approach procedures which are basically related to the radio beams of the instrument landing system to bring them down to the point where they touch down on the runway. Aircraft need to be lined up on the extended centreline of the runway at some distance from the airport on the directional radio beam before they commence a constant rate of descent along the straight line of the glide slope. This means that there can be no variation of rates of descent, or of routes, in the later stages of approach to landing. The choice for a given runway is limited to the rate of descent that is not too steep to be unsafe for modern high performance aircraft and not so shallow that it would allow prolonged flight at low altitude over congested areas. I.C.A.O. has recommended standardisation on a 2½ degree angle of approach. We have nevertheless retained 3 degrees as the standard. This gives better protection from disturbance to people under the glide path.

On approach, therefore, the requirement calls for strict adherence to the angle of the glide slope, in contrast to the more flexible situation for aircraft taking off. The noisiness of any given aircraft is a function of the height and the power setting. Once the glide slope has been engaged there is very little that can be done to reduce noise. No meaningful noise level could be imposed and monitored, and all the measuring in the world would not, alas, reduce the noise. Instead we undertake sample height monitoring along the glide slope itself to maintain a check that aircraft are on it. As the requirement relates to height—it could not meaningfully be otherwise—so the monitoring of this phase of flight relates to height.

We also seek to reduce the disturbance further away from the airport caused by aircraft coming in to land in the stages before they are fixed on to the final approach. Here the purpose is to keep aircraft as high as possible before joining the glide slope, but without causing aircraft unnecessarily to follow longer flight paths over built-up areas. Even here we are, however, under certain constraints. The air traffic control system, and the needs of a busy airport to accommodate large volumes of traffic, means that air- craft must be sequenced on to the final approach, often when they differ widely in performance and are coming in at different times and from different directions. We have therefore made a general requirement that, unless otherwise directed by A.T.C., aircraft may not descend below 2,000 feet before joining the glide slope. In the most common mode of operations at Heathrow, where westerly winds prevail some 70 per cent. of the time, this means that aircraft will normally join the glide slope to the east of a point at least six nautical miles from touchdown, or roughly over Mortlake or Chiswick.

Mr. A. Royle

If the aircraft is below that correct height of 2,000 feet when it joins the glide slope—let us say that it is at 1,800 feet—and then puts on power to get to the correct height, what check is there at the moment that that is taking place?

Mr. Roberts

The monitoring would indicate this. I would say that the variation mentioned by the hon. Gentleman of 200 feet is not usual, but it happens. In that event, the aircraft has to climb at a higher set of power, and that causes extra noise. I am coming on to height monitoring, and I will indicate what has been done along the glide slope. The point may become a little more clear to the hon. Gentleman when I get on to that part of my speech.

A very few aircraft, mainly pistonengined light aircraft which are too slow to fit compatibly into this sequence, are fed in at about 1,500 feet., which means over Isleworth or the extreme southwest of Brentford. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey was not referring to those aircraft but rather to the legitimately deviated larger plane which, for quite sound reasons, is flying below 2,000 ft.

When aircraft are brought on to the glide slope further away, either because they are approaching from directions to the east of London which would in any case take them over more central parts of London, or because they have to be taken round under radar control on longer paths in order to fit them into slots in a busy stream of traffic, we have told air traffic controllers to keep them above 3,000 ft. In other words, we have made a compromise in the interests of amenity requiring those aircraft which have to fly the greatest distances over the built-up area to stay at the greatest practicable height. It should be noted that, where aircraft join the glide slope at 2,000 ft. rather than 3,000 feet, they will be flying over a smaller part of the built-up area.

I have gone into a description of approach procedures in some detail because I know of my hon. Friend's concern and interest in this phase of flight and the effects of it which are felt in his constituency. In the next couple of minutes, since his concern about height monitoring was echoed by one or two other hon. Members, I will give the following information.

Some hon. Members will undoubtedly know that, early in 1967, a standard procedure was introduced for aircraft on approach to Heathrow to be kept at about 3,000 ft. or above at a point 11 nautical miles from touchdown, or 2,000 ft. or above at a point 7 nautical miles from touchdown, except when already on the 3-degree glide slope. A careful study has established that, for a host of practical reasons, these heights were the best which could be achieved. In 1968, a special investigation was made to verify the extent to which aircraft adhered to clearances given them by air traffic control in relation to these minimum heights at the 7 nautical mile and 11 nautical mile distances.

I now come to the point about effectively checking the height results. We were already using radar to monitor adherence to the glide path itself, taking a random sample of 5 per cent. As might be expected, compliance was and is very good. However, we do not monitor the 7 and 11 nautical mile points regularly, and the question was whether the capital cost was justified in view of the results that we had already achieved, and which we had no reason to doubt would be repeated if we went into a thorough going monitor check at these distances.

Mr. Speaker, I have not concluded the comments that I wished to make on that part of my hon. Friend's speech but—

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.