HL Deb 20 December 1988 vol 502 cc1353-5WA
Lord Teviot

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Department of Transport has yet updated its 1986 air traffic forecasts, and whether it will make a statement about the need for fresh airport capacity in the South-East.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

The Department of Transport is today publishing fresh forecasts of passenger demand at UK airports. Copies are being placed in the House Libraries.

The latest forecasts cover the period to 2005. For United Kingdom airports they predict higher volumes of traffic than those estimated in 1986, with a significant increase in the proportion of passengers using regional airports, whose share is projected to rise from 33 to over 37 per cent. Continuing strong growth is expected both at London and at regional airports, relying on the availability of sufficient air traffic control capacity. This reflects among other factors the sustained economic performance of this country and our strength in business and tourism. The new forecasts take account on the one hand of lower air fares which are expected to result from further liberalisation; and on the other of the effects of the Channel Tunnel.

In the 1985 White Paper Airport Policy (Cmnd. 9542) the Government stated that one of the objectives towards which UK airports policy should be directed was the fostering of a strong and competitive British airline industry through the provision of enough airport capacity where it is needed. In respect of the London airports the White Paper concluded that the developments then in hand or planned should provide both sufficient capacity to meet air transport demand in the South-East into the mid-1990s and the necessary flexibility to enable decisions to be taken at the appropriate time for any development needed thereafter. On regional airports we have consistently affirmed our encouragement for their maximum use and development to meet demand arising locally, and have said we look to them to attract more traffic and so help with the pressure on the South-East.

The Government's commitment has most recently been evidenced by the announcement yesterday of capital expenditure allocations for municipal airports and public airport companies for 1989–90 totalling £23 million. These include an allocation towards the cost of the first phase of a major new passenger terminal at Manchester Airport, thus allowing the airport company to proceed.

Earlier this year we judged that the time had come to review the strategy set out in the White Paper in the light of subsequent events. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport therefore asked the Civil Aviation Authority for formal recommendations, under Section (16)(2) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, on the UK airport capacity needed to cope with demand through to 2005. At the same time, he asked the authority for interim advice on strategies for making good use of the available air traffic control capacity until the planned reorganisation of the London Terminal Area (LTMA) airspace produces additional capacity in 1995. I received the authority's interim advice at the end of last month and it is being published by the authority today. The authority's main advice is due in July of next year and my right honourable friend shall neither take nor endorse any decisions on airport capacity until we have considered that advice.

The present outlook is as follows. Although Heathrow and Gatwick are now operating for much of the time at close to the capacity of their runways, their passenger throughput can be expected to go on increasing gradually over the years with the growth in size of aircraft and with some further peak-spreading. Moreover, the London area still has substantial spare runway capacity at Stansted: the runway there is at present handling only about 1 million passengers per annum, though its potential capacity is of the order of 25 million passengers per annum. Runways at Luton and London City airports and at other existing airports accessible to passengers to and from the South-East can also be expected to make some contribution to the handling of London's traffic growth. But of course runway capacity cannot be realised without improvements in airspace capacity over south-eastern England and the corresponding development of sufficient passenger terminal capacity.

In its interim advice on airspace strategies, the CAA explains that in 1995, with the completion of the planned reorganisation of London Terminal Area airspace, it expects LTMA air traffic control capacity to be adequate to handle the runway capacities of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, in addition to 16 movements per hour at Luton.

As to terminal capacity, a number of new developments are either planned or possible. The first phase of Stansted's new terminal is already under construction and is planned to open in 1991. Outline planning permission has been given for completion of the terminal to a capacity of 15 million passengers per annum, though parliamentary approval would be needed to raise the current limit on air transport movements at the airport. Moreover, as envisaged in the 1985 White Paper, further terminal development to the capacity of Stansted's runway would also be possible, subject to planning permission and to Parliament's decision over the airport's current air transport movement limit. The White Paper also left open the possibility of a fifth passenger terminal at Heathrow: again, any proposal would be subject to planning permission.

There are therefore a number of ways in which airport capacity in the South-East can continue to meet demand without the commissioning of new runways. We now await the CAA's main advice, due in July. Meanwhile, in view of the long lead-times necessary for seeking planning approval and for construction, it is right that those responsible for operating and developing airports should review the options for any new terminal developments that traffic forecasts indicate are likely to be needed.