Clause 1 - CAA’s general duty
Civil Aviation Bill
Julie Hilling (Bolton West, Labour)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger.
I will not speak for long, but I want to express the enormous disappointment among not only green groups, but the many people who live near airports or who are affected because of having an airport in the vicinity. There is great concern worldwide about air travel’s effect on the environment and the damage it can do to the ozone layer, but many people are more concerned about what happens day to day—about the airport’s effect on their daily lives.
Noise is the most obvious issue we talk about when we debate airports. Although it is a serious issue, it affects a smaller group of people than other environmental concerns. Similarly, the actual flight is only a small part of the carbon footprint of any journey by air. What about the environmental cost of getting people to the airport by road and rail? What about the cost of road congestion, which is a big issue in my community in Greater Manchester? What about the cost to the environment of the car-parking spaces that seem to spread across the fields, particularly around Heathrow and Gatwick, where we seem to grow cars instead of crops?
Of course, industry faces competing priorities. Its main priority has to be getting passengers to their destination in the most profitable way possible. Profits, or at least costs, are even more important for regional airports, many of which are struggling to survive. For airports it is about having as many flights as possible, and airports such as Heathrow are having to work out how to squeeze them into restricted air and ground space. It is about getting passengers to the airport in the easiest way possible, because they need to ensure that passengers choose to travel with them in future. To believe that operators will consider environmental issues out of the goodness of their hearts seems somewhat naive. My local airport does what it can to be a good neighbour, and it has invested greatly in rail links and other mitigating effects—it is now investing in Metrolink to bring in more people—but I do not believe that a vague requirement, rather than an absolute duty, is enough.
I also do not believe that passengers make any choices because of an airport’s green credentials. I am sure that, like me, other passengers work out where they want to go, what the price is and how easy it is to get to the airport. Deciding whether to fly or catch a train may be my one environmental consideration, but I do not make any further such considerations in choosing where to go.
I strongly urge the Government to include environmental duties not only for regulated airports, but for all airports. The Minister says that the Bill is not the place for environmental duties because it is about economic regulation, but it is about more than that—it is about aviation security.