Airports: Heathrow — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:23 pm on 13th February 2013.

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Photo of Lord Spicer Lord Spicer Conservative 3:23 pm, 13th February 2013

To ask Her Majesty's Government what has been the average daily spare capacity at Heathrow Airport over the last six months.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the day-to-day monitoring and management of Heathrow's capacity is a commercial matter for the airport operator. However, I can confirm that the declared daily runway scheduling limit at Heathrow, published by Airport Coordination Limited for the winter season 2012-13, is for up to 656 arrivals and 678 departures, a total of 1,334 movements per day. There is an annual planning limit of 480,000 air transport movements at the airport.

Photo of Lord Spicer Lord Spicer Conservative

My Lords, most people think that Heathrow is now pretty well full up. What would a third runway do for capacity at Heathrow and what would it do for the economic growth of our country?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I certainly agree that Heathrow is to all intents and purposes full up. The answer to the noble Lord's question about the third runway is a matter for the Airports Commission. Coalition policy is currently that there will be no third runway at Heathrow or any of the other London airports.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

The Minister's comments were rather good and quite encouraging. However, whatever Sir Howard Davies is likely to recommend, it is unlikely to be an alternative hub airport somewhere else in the near future-at least in the next 15 or 20 years. Therefore, would it not be wise to allow Heathrow fully to prepare for the likely decision to go ahead with a third runway, even if only in the short term, because otherwise we will be shutting ourselves out of the global economy? Will the Minister take that back to his department? People are increasingly turning to Frankfurt and Amsterdam, particularly international investors. We really do have to take it more seriously.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I know that the noble Lord has strong feelings on this matter, but I am afraid that he should take no encouragement from what I have just said at all. We will have to wait until the Airports Commission reports. However, Heathrow is well connected at the moment, and compares very well with our European partners.

Photo of Baroness Valentine Baroness Valentine Crossbench

As chief executive of London First, I hear daily of businesses' frustration that capacity constraints are not being tackled more urgently. In the mean time, recent trails at Heathrow using both runways to land and take off appear to have reduced the number of stacking planes and to have improved punctuality. If the Government are satisfied with these trials, when do they intend to make the practice permanent?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point about the operational freedoms trials which arose from the south-east airports taskforce, chaired by my right honourable friend Theresa Villiers. We are in the second phase of the trials. They are not yet complete, so we do not yet have the complete answer. We will just have to see the results, but we are making good progress on the trials.

On stacking, the Civil Aviation Authority is undertaking a study on the future airspace strategy. One of the objectives is to reduce stacking of aircraft, because of the noise, emission and cost.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

Most people have been worried by the awful trouble caused when there is bad winter weather at Heathrow. As the allocation of flights is, as the Minister put it in his Answer, a commercial matter, will he consider asking the CAA whether there should be a regulatory decision which would actually make airlines cancel flights in order that they can stop the horrors that happened at Heathrow two or three weeks ago?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My noble friend raises an important point. In the event of bad weather, a committee, HADACAB, determines whether it is desirable to reduce the number of flights so that Heathrow, or any other airport, is not running at maximum capacity and time is provided for the runway to be cleared.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

Is not the truth of the situation that the Government have made up their mind, despite evidence to the contrary, that Heathrow has to be ruled out? Is there any alternative? What do the Government propose? Is not time of the essence?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord will know that this is an extremely difficult issue. For every suggestion that the noble Lord could make about what we should do about this problem, I could tell your Lordships what the difficulty is. We have set an extremely difficult exam question for the Airports Commission, and we will just have to wait and see what it advises.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest: it took two and a quarter hours to get from Glasgow to Heathrow on Monday, most of that time being spent on the tarmac at either airport. How long are we going to continue with the disgrace that is Heathrow? Is it not obvious for a Government with no money that if there is a proposal to create a privately funded third runway-up and running and providing jobs-and we want growth, then we should get on with it?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I understand noble Lords' passion about the problem with Heathrow, but we must also recognise that there are over 200,000 people around Heathrow adversely affected by the noise of airport operations.

Photo of Lord Rotherwick Lord Rotherwick Conservative

My Lords, although people are saying that Heathrow is full up, nearly saturated or working at 98% capacity, is it not true that that in reality is in good weather? During bad weather when the time between landings is extended significantly, considerable delay is caused. It really is time that we should respond to this because it is totally detrimental to the UK that other nations should see that we are incapable of operating an efficient transport system.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I believe that we are responding and that we have handled the bad weather better by proactively cancelling flights in advance in order to reduce the activity at the airport so that the runways can be cleared. It is interesting that at Gatwick, which does not run at 100% capacity, it is much easier to keep the runways clear. Gatwick has the time to do it without having to cancel aircraft.