Borrowing Powers of Civil Aviation Authority

Part of Clause 1 – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 1st February 1990.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire , Spelthorne 9:45 pm, 1st February 1990

I move the amendments as one of the Members of Parliament representing Heathrow airport. Some 70,000 electors will be seriously affected by parts of the Bill if certain plans go ahead.

I felt compelled to table the amendments earlier this week because of what has occurred since the Standing Committee considered the Bill on 18 January. On 23 January, British Midland Airways published a report calling for exactly the changes at Heathrow that were discussed when the money resolution was debated on 17 January and when the Committee considered the Bill on 18 January. The report estimates the cost of the changes at Heathrow at £50 million—exactly the sum that I seek to delete, thus making it impossible for the Civil Aviation Authority to spend money on what was suggested in those discussions and in the report.

On Second Reading, the Minister for Aviation and Shipping gave two reasons for wanting the Bill to be enacted, one of which concerns us now. He said: One project is the central control function; it has been called the tunnels in the sky concept. It involves a major restructuring of the airspace over south-east England and will increase capacity in the terminal manoeuvring area over the south-east by at least 30 per cent. when it is fully in place in 1995."—[Official Report, Second Reading Committee, 20 December 1989; c. 3.] So far so good. I have no objections if the Bill does that, but the problems start when one asks where the 30 per cent. will land. When the Bill was considered previously, various hon. Members urged the CAA to spend money to enable much of that extra 30 per cent. to land at Heathrow airport.

Two suggestions affecting Heathrow were made in those previous discussions, both of which will need the use of the borrowing powers if they are to be implemented. They are, first, ending the daily runway switch at 3 o'clock and, secondly, allowing more night flights. Those were the common themes that ran through much of the discussion on how further to utilise Heathrow. Surprise, surprise, those were two of the five proposals put forward by an independent airline, which it costed at £50 million, the amount which I seek to delete from the Bill. In case anyone doubts whether an independent airline's proposals for Heathrow affect the CAA, I tell the House that in order to get the details of what was being proposed by British Midland Airways I had to ask the CAA for them. So it is involved and must be stopped.

Let us look in some detail at the purpose of trying to spend the £50 million that I am anxious to prevent being spent. It is to try to create 75,000 extra slots—extra landings and takeoffs—at Heathrow. That would represent about 22 per cent. additional traffic movement a year through that airport.

The report, in seeking to spend that money, suggests that five alterations should be made. They are that mixed mode operations should alter the runway switching; that there should be a reduction in the lateral separation of aircraft as they are flying around the airport; that there should be new taxiways to make it quicker for aircraft to get off the runways; that there should be an extension of the working day; and that airline efficiency should be improved.

When the Bill was considered previously, those of us who opposed such matters were described unflatteringly. My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), for example, said in Standing Committee: The environment lobby groups—comparatively few—suggest that all the people around the airport are up in arms about noise. That is not true. It is a 'not 'in my backyard' approach, because while they are happy to have the M25 and other major roads nearby for their convenience, a lorry driving along the M25 creates much more noise than an aircraft".—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 18 January 1990; c. 6.] My hon. Friend went on to try to persuade everybody that quieter aircraft would get rid of the problem.

I give that quotation to make the point that my opposition and that of my constituents to some of what is proposed is not a mindless, knee-jerk, "not in my backyard" approach to everything that might be suggested for Heathrow airport. My constituents and I have no objection in principle to some of the money that is to be borrowed being spent to improve air traffic control. Indeed, if that makes life safer for us, we are happy. Nor have we any objection to the money being spent on improving the taxiways, and if it means spending money to improve airline efficiency, we would welcome that.

But if any of the £50 million is to be used to enable mixed mode runway use to take place at Heathrow or to increase the number of night flights, I must make it crystal clear that I and all my constituents, irrespective of party, will fight the proposals tooth and nail.

In trying to persuade the House to clip the wings of the Bill, it is vital that I explain to the Minister in detail what bothers me and thus give him a chance, if he can, to reassure me that the money that is to be spent will not be spent on the aspects to which I have referred.

What is it about mixed mode runway use to which we object so much? At present, at Heathrow airport at 3 o'clock each day the runways are switched round so that a runway used for takeoff in the morning is used for landing aircraft in the afternoon, and vice versa. That came about because an aircraft taking off makes much more noise than an aircraft landing. That is equally true of quieter aircraft and older noisy aircraft; there is still more noise on take-off.

Switching runways was felt to be a way of helping people living near the airport to come to terms with the situation, so that they would have trouble in the morning and less trouble in the afternoon. They would know where they stood and at what times the switch would take place.

Lest the House does not think that that is important, I will explain what goes on in my constituency. People get to know the switching times for the week. If they must go shopping or visit friends, they do it when the nearest runway is noisy. If they want to be at home or do gardening, they look up the runway arrangements for the week and plan their lives accordingly. So it is as relevant now as when the scheme was first introduced.

If the CAA is tempted to spend some of the money to make it possible for that 3 o'clock rule to be relaxed, it should be warned that not only will it be resisted but that is will be wasting its money. When the Bill was considered previously, two points were made about the arrangement, and we should consider them because they show what happens when people who are not connected with the airport are allowed to try to pose as experts and tell their colleagues what is going on.

When the money resolution was debated, my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams said of the arrangements there: I wonder whether my hon. Friends are aware that at Heathrow every day at 3 o'clock the runways are changed, rather like the changing of the guard. That results in about a half-hour gap in operations as the CAA changes the runway pattern."—[Official Report, 17 January 1990; Vol. 165, c. 362.] When the Bill was considered in Committee the following day, my hon. Friend said: Heathrow is closed for about 20 minutes as the runway configurations are changed."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 18 January 1990; c. 4.] Within a matter of hours, half an hour had become 20 minutes.

This afternoon, I rang up national air traffic control services to double check that my memory was correct. It confirmed that the switch round at 3 o'clock is almost instantaneous. It does not stop operations and there is no drop in the hourly rate of aircraft movements in that hour. As well as being opposed by us, if the CAA is tempted to spend any of the money in getting rid of the 3 o'clock rule, it will not find any more slots from that manoeuvre.

There seems to be a suggestion that some of the money could be used to increase the number of night flights. The British Midland Airways report does not say that. It says, "Let's not get into the argument about night flights. Let's turn night into day and extend day-time by half an hour at either end." Instead of having a ban from 11·30 pm until 6 am—not a complete ban, but a very severe curb on flights in and out of the airport so that my constituents can sleep—and instead of giving them peace and quiet during those hours in the summer, it is suggested that the hours should be midnight to 5.30 am. Again, it is suggested that that does not matter because aircraft have become quieter. My constituents are not overfussed about whether they are woken up abruptly or gently; they simply object to being woken up. Until my hon. Friend the Minister, the CAA or British Midland Airways can come forward with a silent aircraft, we are implacably opposed in my constituency to any increase in night flights or any tinkering with times, so that, by a sleight of hand, people can say that it is not night time after all.

I have tabled two amendments. My hon. Friend the Minister is keen to have 30 per cent. more aircraft circling over London. I do not necessarily oppose that. British Midland Airways is keen to spend £50 million of the money that we are considering tonight to divert 75,000 of the extra slots to Heathrow. The test we have to apply is to consider for what the money will be used. For what will the £50 million—which my amendment seeks to restrict—be used? If it is to be used for airline efficiency, that is fine. 1 support it if it is to be used for better air traffic control. I also support new taxiways, but unless my hon.

Friend can assure me that the money will not be spent on more night flights, that it will not be used to turn night into day and that it will not be used to scrap the arrangements that have been worked out over the years to protect the interests of my constituents, I hope that all hon. Members will join me in opposing spending money in that way, which will harm my constituents and will do no good to civil aviation.