HC Deb 09 November 1987 vol 122 cc4-5
4. Mr. Michael Colvin

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he next plans to meet the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority to discuss the problems of air traffic control in British airspace.

Mr. Channon

I meet the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority frequently to discuss matters of common interest. I next plan to see him on 16 November.

Mr. Colvin

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the enormous contribution to this country's balance of payments made by civil aviation and of the industry's growth. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that our air traffic control system can cope with that ever-increasing growth? Will he avoid taking any action that will merely add to ATC problems, such as the imposition of an unrealistic night-flying restriction at London's airports?

Mr. Channon

I am well aware of civil aviation's contribution. It has been one of our most successful industries, and I think that that is generally recognised by both sides of the House. Night flights are a different matter. I have sent out consultative documents on this matter in the past few days. I should be interested to have the reactions of my hon. Friend and others to them. As for the general adequacy of the Civil Aviation Authority's ability to deal with air traffic control, the CAA has received investment allocations sufficient to meet planned needs. A total of £125 million has been spent on improvements to systems over the past five years and the CAA plans to increase the rate of spend in the future. The answer to my hon. Friend's question is, therefore, yes.

Ms. Quin

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is great public disquiet about the crowded air space above London? Does he agree that the best way of tackling the problem is by a planned expansion of Britain's regional airports and better services between the regions and other parts of Europe?

Mr. Channon

There has been rapid growth in Britain's regional airports, and I strongly support their development. There have been outstanding success stories. The air space over London is crowded. The CAA has a duty to deal with that overcrowding. I have outlined the vast sums of money that the CAA is spending and will spend. No sensible proposal from the CAA has ever been turned down by me or by my predecessors.

Mr. Higgins

Does my right hon. Friend accept that air traffic control and the subject of night flying cannot be divorced? Does he agree that it is intolerable that flights landing between 5 am and 6 am should be able to wake potentially millions of people for the benefit of a few hundred passengers? Will he seriously consider restricting landings until 6 am?

Mr. Channon

I believe that when my right hon. Friend studies my detailed consultative proposals he will find much to welcome, particularly the restriction of night flights into Heathrow if the proposals are generally agreed.

Mr. Spearing

Will the Secretary of State raise with the chairman of the CAA the procedures and safety regulations to be adopted by the authority in relation to the new London City airport, which the right hon. Gentleman visited last Thursday? The right hon. Gentleman is directly responsible for these matters in relation to shipping, but with regard to air traffic they are the responsibility of the CAA. Is he aware that vague, bland assurances that cannot be verified are not satisfactory? Will he ensure that the CAA provides facts and figures in answer to questions and letters from hon. Members? Is he aware that if the authority does not do that its sloppy procedures will be made public and open to criticism, and will deserve to be changed?

Mr. Channon

I will, of course, discuss that with the chairman if the hon. Gentleman wishes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like me, wishes the airport to be a great success. The CAA assures me that it is wholly satisfied with procedures within the airport and with its operation. It is also evaluating how the airport traffic can be properly integrated in the future, and is satisfied with that aspect.

Mr. McCrindle

In addition to discussing matters of air traffic control, will my right hon. Friend reassure himself in forthcoming meetings with the CAA that related safety matters, such as the provision of smoke hoods and adequate exits from aircraft, are pushed ahead by the authority at all possible speed as it is now some two and a half years since the Manchester disaster?

Mr. Channon

I have, of course, discussed those matters with the chairman, and I shall do so again. With respect, I believe that they go a little wider than the question on the Order Paper. Nevertheless, they are extremely important.