HL Deb 01 March 1984 vol 448 cc1434-8

7.42 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 1st February be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order, the third of its type, will replace the Air Navigation (Noise Certification) Order 1979. It carries forward the provisions of the previous order and, inter alia, widens the scope of aircraft noise certification by including for the first time requirements for supersonic aeroplanes and standards for microlight aeroplanes. As in 1979, it is considered preferable to have a new comprehensive order than to prepare an amending order.

The order is unavoidably complex. There are a multiplicity of categories and related standards which vary with the type and weight of the aeroplane, with the date of the certificate of airworthiness, either for the type or the individual aeroplane and, in the case of jets, with the number and type of engines fitted. Further, to comprehend fully its effect, it is necessary to study three related Civil Aviation Authority documents—two of which are highly technical. Copies of these—British Civil Airworthiness Requirements, Section N Noise; the amending Blue Paper No. N810 dated 12th January 1984 and Civil Aviation Authority Official Record Series 4—have been provided in the Library.

This draft order, which is to be made under the provisions of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, will give effect in the United Kingdom to the new and revised noise emission standards which have already been agreed by member states of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, following the 6th meeting of the Committee on Aircraft Noise in 1979, known as CAN/6. The order together with the accompanying document, the CAA Official Record Series 4, will also give effect to EC Directives 80–51 and 83–206. These directives were issued following a long period of consultation with our colleagues in the Community, and have already been approved by Parliament. They are in line with ICAO Recommendations.

Broadly speaking the order will: require new production of older types of heavy propeller-driven aeroplanes to meet the earliest standards for subsonic jets; allow aeroplanes up to a maximum weight of 6,500 kg to be noise certified to the light propeller-driven aeroplane standards where the prototype was certificated to those standards; require derived versions of low by-pass ratio engined subsonic jets (mainly the older types) to meet the slightly more stringent standards for derived versions of high by-pass ratio engined jets; and, require further production and derived versions of existing types of supersonic aeroplanes to be no noiser than the parent aeroplane.

The draft order also introduces standards for microlight aeroplanes, which the Government undertook to bring into effect in time for the coming flying season. I refer to the Commons Hansard of 29th March 1983, column 117, in which the response was given in answer to a Written Question. While perhaps not a major problem, this relatively new activity is undoubtedly a source of annoyance to people living near the airfields from which these small machines operate. The British Microlight Aircraft Association, the sport's controlling body, recognising the need to minimise the disturbance caused by their activities has co-operated helpfully with my department in drawing up the proposed standards. The Government believe these will give worthwhile environmental protection without imposing unreasonable penalties on microlight owners and manufacturers. The remainder of the order carries forward the provisions of the 1979 Order.

Standards for helicopters are not being introduced. Although noise certification standards were agreed at CAN/6, further work demonstrated that the proposed noise limits did not allow sufficient margin for growth for future derived versions of existing types. Since they could have been harmful to the helicopter industry, new standards were subsequently discussed and agreed by member states at CAN/7 in May 1983. They will be given urgent consideration as soon as they have been promulgated by ICAO.

The standards which ICAO develops set levels which have been shown to be technologically feasible and economically reasonable for the category of aeroplane to which they apply. That this is so is confirmed by our own aviation industry, which has known for some time of these latest ICAO standards and of the United Kingdom's commitment to introduce them, and the industry is content.

Of all causes of noise disturbance—heavy lorries, motor bikes, lawn mowers, or others—aircraft noise in some ways is the most intractable. While, unfortunately, aircraft noise is likely to be a source of considerable annoyance for years to come, the Government will continue to do what they can to minimise the problem, particularly for those people whose quality of life may be affected because they live in the vicinity of an airport. Many noble Lords will know of the various operational measures that are taken to this end; for example, the special noise reducing take-off procedures: requiring aircraft to keep to carefully selected departure routes designed to overfly as few people as possible: establishing maximum permitted noise levels on take-off and limiting the number of night movements. But it has to be admitted that at best they are only palliatives. The real answer lies in quieter aeroplanes and it is the introduction of these that this order will help to encourage. Your Lordships will, however, recognise that it is essential to strike a balance between the environmental benefits of a new and technically feasible standard and the costs it imposes on manufacturers, operators and eventually users. My Lords, I commend the draft order to you.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 1st February be approved.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the order which is before us tonight. As he rightly says, it is of a very complex nature and very technical. I would not ask the Minister to explain to me the actual noise standards which are set out in the seven parts of Schedule 1 and Schedule 3 but, as these are matters of international agreement, I am sure that noble Lords like myself will accept them as they are presented to us. It is an important order. The development of aviation makes the question of noise control important and, while we all wish to see the further development of air travel, as with heavy lorries the development must be what is environmentally acceptable. I was very pleased to note the sympathetic approach of the noble Lord the Minister to that point.

The Minister has explained that the order does not cover helicopters. This is of increasing importance and, while I appreciate that there must be international agreement on this, I hope that there will be no delay because there is increasing nuisance around many of the airports. There is also increasing use by the police. I can assure your Lordships that in the area where I live, just near Epping Forest, there have been a number of letters in the local press, talking about the noise nuisance created by helicopters used by the police authorities. Therefore I do appreciate that there will be international agreement and I trust there will be no delay. I am also pleased to note the inclusion of microlights. I understand that the Microlight Aircraft Association gave the fullest cooperation on the inclusion of microlights in this order.

When the matter was discussed in the other place, the question of the level of fines was raised and also the question as to whether £400 was adequate. In reply to my honourable friend the Opposition spokesman the Minister said that the level of fines had been reviewed two years ago but if the honourable Member considered that they were not sufficient the Minister would examine the matter further. I hope that the level of fines will be examined further because a maximum of £400 for this type of offence seems woefully inadequate.

The issue is not one solely of the control of the noise of individual aircraft but also of nuisance which, even with noise control envisaged in this order, can be increased by having over-frequent aircraft movements. Naturally, the major problem here is Heathrow, and in reading the Hansard report of the debate in another place I noticed that a number of honourable Members sought clarification about the control of movements at Heathrow. It brought up the strange situation that at present there is no limitation of movements, but that when Terminal 4 is opened as expected in late 1985, there will then be a limitation of 275,000 movements. However, if in the meantime the number should exceed 275,000 when Terminal 4 opens, there will have to be a cutting back to 275,000. This will mean that some operators in those circumstances may have to move elsewhere; and the question of more domestic flights being allowed into Heathrow is a matter of great importance. It may not he covered by this order but it is associated with the whole question of aircraft noise.

I trust that there will be no question of increasing total movements at Heathrow beyond 275,000 without reference to Parliament. It would appear that the question of noise control, at least so far as London is concerned, is tied up with talk of possible deregulation of domestic flights. I hope that the Civil Aviation Authority will keep this question in mind during the present review that is being undertaken, and that when the report is available it will be considered by the Secretary of State and by Parliament. We welcome this order, and we will support it.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, we on these Benches should like to thank the noble Lord for explaining this order. I simply want to ask him one question about Article 7 concerning the noise certificate to be carried. Article 7(1) says: An aeroplane shall not land or take-off…unless it carries any noise certificate which it is required to carry under the law of the country in which it is registered". Does that mean that there are some countries which do not require noise certificates? One would imagine that all major carriers would subscribe to the international bodies to which the noble Lord referred: but what about minor carriers? What I am really asking the noble Lord is whether the harmonisation of laws is well developed.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for his welcome to this order. I hope to deal quite quickly with the points that have been raised because I do not think your Lordships would wish to be delayed unnecessarily this evening. With regard to helicopter noise certification, as I said in my introductory remarks this will be a matter of some urgency when the CAN/7 standards have been finally accepted by the association. Frankly, we do not expect that until about 12 months hence.

The noble Lord asked me particularly about the £400 fine. I think I should say here that, of course, if there is real evidence that a fine of this amount is inadequate there will certainly be a review, but if one is thinking particularly in terms of the microlight aircraft, a fine of £400 is an enormous amount of money. You can almost put a man's summer sport out of court for some two or three years. On the other hand, I think that noble Lords should remember that the fine itself is not always the end of the disadvantage—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will appreciate this—because, of course, coupled with a fine would be a refusal for the aeroplane to fly. For an aeroplane to stand idle on a runway, in shipping terms, would be called demurrage. I am not quite sure what it would be called in aircraft terms, but it would involve the loss of use of the aeroplane, and, of course, additional charges would be a further penalty. Happily there have been very few instances where that has been necessary.

The noble Lord asked me about Heathrow. While I appreciate that there is real concern over the level of air traffic movements and the changed situation arising with the opening of the new terminal, I think that perhaps Heathrow and ATMs are a little special. Perhaps we might have a conversation, if he is agreeable, because I do not think at this stage, in relation to the order before us, I can add anything. Perhaps we might review this in the usual way. However, I take note of the point he raised.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, for his remarks. He raised a particular question as to the certificate of registration. In the main, I can tell him that the vast majority of operating countries, and certainly all those engaged in the manufacture of aircraft, are subscribers to the international convention. I do not have a long list of countries, and perhaps the noble Lord would allow me to write and set out that particular piece of detail. But in terms of actual practice, I do not think he need have any undue worries. I do not think I can add anything further at the moment to assist your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.