HC Deb 12 July 1990 vol 176 cc280-1W
Mr. Soames

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has now concluded his review of the quota for night flights at Gatwick and if he will make a statement.

Mr. McLoughlin

When the current restrictions on night flying at Heathrow and Gatwick were announced in Februrary 1988, an undertaking was given that if, after two years (that is, after the summer season 1989), it was apparent that disturbance from night flights at Gatwick was getting worse, the quotas would be revised accordingly.

Detailed monitoring of the night noise climate was carried out by the directorate of operational research and analysis at the Civil Aviation Authority. It found that the area within the night noise contours at Gatwick had become smaller during the period since the introduction of the new night restricitons, and that the quietest category of aircraft (referred to as night noise category C-NN/C) had proved, as expected, to be quieter on average than aircraft categorised as NN/B. This confirms that the overall night noise climate can be improve by switching to operations by the quieter, NN/C, types of aircraft.

Two conclusions may be drawn from the monitoring work. The first is that it would not be appropriate to reconsider the night quotas at Gatwick at this stage, a view that has been accepted by the Gatwick airport consultative committee. The second conclusion is that the newer, quieter models of aircraft do reduce the amount of disturbance from aircraft noise. Those benefits should continue to accrue as the older, noisier jets are increasingly replaced. We are encouraging that process through the agreement in Europe that chapter 2 aircraft will no longer be allowed to be added to national registers from November this year, and by the proposed agreement to phase out their operation completely by the early years of the next century.

The message for airlines from this work is that we will want to encourage as rapid a transition as possible to the use of quieter aircraft at night. I propose to pay particular attention to this when the night restrictions are reviewed.

The Gatwick airport consultative committee drew attention to three important points when commenting on the monitoring work. It noted the large number of aircraft movements that have been permitted above the quota under the dispensation arrangements, and this is an issue that will need to be considered when the night restrictions are reviewed.

The committee also drew attention to the fact that an integrated noise and track keeping system is not yet in operation at Gatwick. My Department is working closely with BAA plc with the aim of having such a system in operation by 1992. I attach great importance to securing the installation of this system as early as possible.

The committee also suggested that it might be helpful to carry out a survey of disturbance by aircraft noise at night among local people. It seems right to me that we should try to understand as well as we can how aircraft noise affects people's sleep. For that reason, my Department will be carrying out research into this topic over the next 18 months to two years. The findings should be available in time to contribute to the review of the night restrictions.

This research will be relevant to the formulation of new night restrictions at each of the three BAA London airports, and will be devised to cover them all. I believe it is important that those living near these airports should understand what is being done and have an opportunity to contribute to the oversight of the research. I therefore intend to invite the consultative committees of the airports concerned to nominate a representative to sit on a steering committee for this research. I would equally invite the airports to nominate a representative. I will also be inviting Manchester airport, the third largest in the United Kingdom, to participate.