HC Deb 29 April 1981 vol 3 cc396-7W
Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he intends to make any changes in the restrictions on night flights at Heathrow and Gatwick, as a result: of the research into the relationship between aircraft noise and sleep disturbance.

Mr. Biffen

The report of the research carried out by the Civil Aviation Authority's directorate of operational research and analyses, published last year, shed some useful light on how much people's sleep was affected by aircraft noise. However, its findings were not sufficiently conclusive to justify any major change in the present restrictions on night flying at Heathrow and Gatwick.

I have therefore decided that the progressive rundown in noisy movements—which the research showed caused most of the disturbance—should continue, as planned, each year reaching zero by 1987.

No departures of such aircraft may be scheduled at Heathrow after 23.30, but in summer a very small sub-quota is already available for noisier aircraft which are unavoidably delayed. It will be maintained at the present level of 90 during 1982 and 1983, then at 60 for the three remaining years, and may be used only by noise certificated aircraft scheduled to depart before 22.30 hours.

Quotas for the quieter aircraft announced in 1978 increase in size each year by the same number of movements as the noisier quotas decrease, the total number of movements remaining constant. Although the research suggested that a modest increase in these quotas would not increase the degree of disturbance, for the larger jet aircraft the evidence was not very conclusive. I do not at present believe that this warrants any acceleration in the rate of increase for quieter aircraft. But I will wish to undertake a further review of the restrictions on quieter flights when most of the noisier movements have been phased out.

The evidence showed however that very little disturbance was caused by single and twin-engined propeller driven aircraft, or the smaller noise-certificated jets with a maximum take-off weight not exceeding 25,000 lb.—the small executive jet. So I have decided to exempt these types of aircraft from restriction, and to make a compensating reduction in the quotas for other quiet aircrrft from 1 November 1981. The effect of this is to reduce the annual quotas For such aircraft by 100 at Heathrow and by 2,300 at Gatwick.

The majority of people interviewed during the research favoured no change in the present length of night restriction periods, and I am leaving them unaltered.

A difficult balance has to be struck between the objective of reducing the disturbance caused by night flights, and imposing unreasonable restrictions on those who depend for their livelihood on the air transport industry, as well as the passengers it carries.

These arrangement will produce a steady improvement in the noise climate around Heathrow and Gatwick. Noise levels will be regularly monitored, and I shall reconsider the exemptions if the expected improvement is not sustained. Noise limits on aircraft taking off will be strictly enforced, and the number of movements which infringe them will be deducted from the quota for the following season.

Even when the noisier aircraft can no longer operate, some people living close to the airports will still be subjected to comparatively high levels of aircraft noise. To help them, I am improving the noise insulation grant scheme for the two airports.

When these schemes were introduced on 1 April 1980 the grants were intended to cover the full costs of insulating all eligible rooms. The schemes were designed to be as flexible as possible, but limits were set on the cost of the insulation work involved. Price increases over the past year have made these limits indequate. After consultation with the British Airports Authority, which finances and operates the scheme, I have decided that the cost limits should be adjusted to ensure that the schemes continue to fulfil the purpose for which they were intended. Orders which will bring these higher levels of grant into effect from 1 June will be laid before the House on 1 May.