HL Deb 15 December 1987 vol 491 cc695-8

9.44 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 23rd November be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order, which is made under the provisions of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, is the fifth of its kind and is intended to replace the Air Navigation (Noise Certification) Order 1986. As on earlier occasions, we thought it preferable to revoke the existing order rather than introduce an amendment order. The reason for this is to simplify what otherwise might be a complex document. Having studied the draft order, it will be apparent to your Lordships how well we have succeeded in that aim.

I should perhaps explain that the seeming complexity of this short order is due to the numerous categories of aircraft and related standards, which for the most part vary with the type and weight of the aircraft, and the date when the certificate of airworthiness for either the prototype or derived version was applied for. Furthermore, when dealing with newer designs of jet aeroplanes the type and number of engines is also relevant.

The draft order is intended to give effect in the United Kingdom to the recommendations and noise standards agreed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation's Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection at its first meeting held in June last year. We regard the work of the committee as important, and my department plays an active part in it. These standards will be promulgated by the ICAO early next year. The UK will be one of the first to introduce them.

The main change from the 1986 order is the introduction of new noise certification standards for light propeller-driven aeroplanes. This involves an increase in the weight limit from 5,700 kg to 9,000 kg in the definition of this class of aeroplane. The new test, entailing a change from measurements made during level fly-over to recording the noise levels following take-off, is designed to be representative of that phase of the flight which causes the greatest disturbance.

We are also introducing a requirement that foreign registered microlight aircraft should be capable of meeting the UK's most stringent microlight noise standards when operated in this country. These are our own standards. In this field we are ahead of ICAO.

A number of other minor changes have been made to bring the order into line with existing ICAO recommendations.

Perhaps I should make the point that the standards which ICAO develops are set at levels which have been shown to be technically feasible and economically reasonable for the particular category of aircraft to which they apply. They try to ensure that all types of aircraft have equally stringent standards applied to them and that the latest technological advances in making aircraft quieter are quickly reflected in a tightening of the standards. This, of course, is why there are so many of them.

Like the order it replaces, the new order is structured to bring within its scope whole categories of aircraft, while provision is made for exemptions to be granted by the Civil Aviation Authority after consultation with the Secretary of State. Thus to appreciate the full effect of the order it is necessary to refer to the Civil Aviation Authority's Official Record Series 4, which gives details of exempted aircraft. Copies of this and of the British Civil Airworthiness Requirements, Section N—Noise, dated 1st January 1988, which is, if you like, the technical manual that fleshes out the standards contained in the order, have been placed in your Lordships' Library. Broadly speaking exemptions are given to those categories of aircraft for which no ICAO standards exist.

At this point I should like to assure the House that our manufacturing industry and my noble friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry have known of these impending new standards for some time and are satisfied that they can meet the challenge they offer.

Although it is coincidental, the date when this order would come into effect (1st January 1988) is important for another reason. From that date all subsonic jet aircraft which do not satisfy the requirements of this order will be banned from operating in the United Kingdom. Such aeroplanes on the UK register were banned on 1st January 1986, which ensured that early jet aircraft such as the Trident—a good but noisy aeroplane—could no longer operate. I know that this measure gave welcome relief to many people living around our major airports. The 1st January 1988 ban completes the phasing out of these older aircraft. On this, as in other noise matters, the UK has taken the lead. We have been firmer than our European colleagues, often in the face of strong pleas from foreign airlines which find the ban inconvenient, or even costly.

I believe that it might be helpful to refer to two potential forms of aircraft disturbance which are not covered by the order. The first, airships, is one which a number of people have already experienced, while the other, prop fans, is at the development stage.

It will perhaps come as no surprise to this House to learn that I have received a number of complaints from members of another place about the operation of Airship Industry's Skyship 600 last summer. The company, aware of the annoyance its airship caused some people, agreed to limit its speed—and therefore peak noise levels over built-up areas. It varied its routes as much as possible and put a lot of work into reducing the noise at source. Regrettably its efforts were not as successful as one might have wished. I understand however that it has since developed a new silencer which it is confident will make a significant difference to the noise levels.

Last summer we asked the Civil Aviation Authority to undertake a number of noise measurements for us, and if the airship returns next year we shall ask them to continue to do so. The disturbance caused by aircraft noise is very real, and I do not believe that people should be exposed to it if it can be reasonably avoided. It is for this reason that we shall be monitoring closely the activities of this airship and any others that may be operating. It will not surprise your Lordships if I point out that there are few operational airships and that the international organisations have not contemplated the introduction of noise standards for them.

I turn now to the question of prop fans, or unducted fans, or ultra high bypass ratio engines—they have been given a number of names. This new form of propulsion has aroused a great deal of interest among airlines in view of its claimed low fuel consumption. While manufacturers have not as yet released noise data, they have indicated that aeroplanes equipped with these new engines will comply with the most stringent international standards for jet aircraft, which relate to noise on take-off and landing. They should not, therefore, add to the noise problem around airports.

On the other hand, there have been reports expressing concern about possible levels of noise while such aeroplanes are climbing at high altitudes and during cruise. Before allowing this new type of aeroplane to operate I propose to seek international agreement to standards that will ensure that these aeroplanes will not add to the disturbance experienced by people living under flightpaths. To this end we are involved in the studies being undertaken by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the recognised body for aircraft noise regulation, into the problems of setting new noise standards, including standards for noise made by aircraft en route, for this class of aircraft.

There are no easy solutions to the problems of aircraft noise. Our noise certification policies have made a significant contribution to alleviating the problem over the years and the purpose of this order is to further that process. I commend the draft order to your Lordships and beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 23rd November be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I have just a few observations. I agree with the premise of the Minister when he said that anything that can be done to lessen the difficulties of people living in the vicinity of airports should be done. I believe he has explained that satisfactorily.

When the 1986 order was brought before the House I believe I said that but for the explanation of the then Minister, it would have been a very complicated document. Despite the assurance by the Minister, I still find it a very complicated and technical document. However, his explanation has been satisfactory.

I looked at three particular points; namely, the scope of the order and the fact that, generally speaking, it applies to all aircraft landing and taking off anywhere in the UK; secondly, certification which is quite clear in the order; and thirdly, enforcement. Those three points are thoroughly satisfied. With the explanation given by the Minister to make this a little more understandable, I welcome the approach made to reduce noise pollution.

On Question, Motion agreed to.