Amendment 23

Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill [HL] - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 10th February 2020.

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Lord Tunnicliffe:

Moved by Lord Tunnicliffe

23: After Clause 11, insert the following new Clause—“Report on General Aviation(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning on the day this Act is passed, lay before each House of Parliament an assessment of the impact of Part 1 and Part 2 of this Act on general aviation.(2) In preparing the report the Secretary of State must consult bodies including but not limited to–(a) the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association,(b) the General Aviation Safety Council,(c) the Light Aircraft Association,and summarise and respond to issues raised in that consultation.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would require a report on the impact of Part 1 and Part 2 of this Act on general aviation.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

My Lords, this amendment guarantees that general aviation is taken seriously in the process. General aviation is more important than people realise. Aviation 2050: The Future of UK Aviation, Command Paper 9714, published in December 2018, asserts that general aviation flying is worth about £1.1 billion and supports 10,000 jobs. It is a significant part of aviation and a significant employer.

There are Members in the Chamber—just about—who are part of the general aviation community. They may disagree with me, but my sense from friends in this community is that it feels unloved or left out. The short philosophical discussion I had earlier was about the fact that there is a general right to airspace—that, because it is owned by the whole community, it should be treated such that restriction of controlled airspace is balanced against general aviation’s right to use uncontrolled airspace.

It is crucial in this day and age in that it generates airline pilots for the United Kingdom. I lived in a highly privileged age when the national airlines generated their own pilots. They paid for my training—more accurately, they paid for me to have fun, but let us get back to the subject. It is very easy in these situations for these small activities to get lost in the consultation processes. The fact that this amendment calls for a report will mean that officials will have that in mind and increase their propensity to be able to show that the needs of general aviation are appropriately taken account of.

General aviation is not universally popular; it creates noise and is seen as the privilege if not of the rich—although private jets are a big chunk of it, and you have to be either rather important or rather rich to use one—then of those involved in sports flying and training. The cost of hiring an aeroplane is about 5p a second—£180 an hour upwards—so you have to be affluent, if not rich, to take part in it. It has different forces working about it in society, which is a good reason for making sure it has its own special place in the process, which this amendment would allow.

The Government set out their position in The Future of UK Aviation:

“The government aims to ensure that there are appropriate and proportionate policies in place to protect and support General Aviation (GA) and its contribution to GDP and jobs. The government recognises that the needs of GA have to be seen in the wider context of civil and military aviation. In areas such as the use of airspace and the allocation of slots it is important to balance the needs of private flying, commercial GA and scheduled aviation, so that all classes of aviation are properly and proportionately considered and the benefits of GA can be supported.”

My amendment goes towards ensuring that that objective is met. General aviation is something of an enigma, but it deserves the special attention that this amendment would require. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for moving this amendment and raising an important issue.

During an earlier part of our discussions today, I felt that one noble Lord almost suggested that by asking the question one attributes blame. The important thing for general aviation—for a start, that is a massive phrase, which incorporates many different strands of aviation—is that its position is recognised and it is given the right to make representations. I notice and particularly welcome the noble Lord’s amendment saying at proposed new subsection (2) that the report of the Secretary of State

“must consult bodies including but not limited to … the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association” and the General Aviation Safety Council. Many organisations involved in aviation have strong views on this, and in the modern world, it is important that the situation is properly considered and a proper, strategic approach to it is developed.

Just as I stressed earlier the importance of commercial aviation to our economy, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, made the significant point that general aviation is also worth money to our economy—although on a much lower scale. However, the phrase includes such things as the hugely important air ambulance services, so it is important that the views of those involved across the spectrum of general aviation are taken into account. This is not all just about people going out on leisure flights on a Sunday morning.

Photo of Viscount Goschen Viscount Goschen Conservative

My Lords, I repeat the declaration of my interests that I made at Second Reading; I am a private pilot and operator of an aircraft.

This House has developed a somewhat irritating habit of thanking people for things that they do not really want to thank them for just by way of rote. But I really do thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for raising from his position opposite the point about the importance of general aviation in the great ecosystem of aviation in the UK and of course internationally. It is an important part of the broad system of aviation; there is a strong and measured economic benefit to the nation, and there are other benefits, such as the production of pilots—the supply of pilots who come through training systems rather than training overseas. We have all sorts of disadvantages with training in the UK, the primary one of which is weather and the secondary one is cost, and it is very easy for training to be done overseas. So I very much associate myself with the breadth of the remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, made about the importance of general aviation and the breadth of what is covered by that system.

Successive Governments of different hues have made public statements about the importance of general aviation—this is not a political matter in any respect. But there are essential freedoms to be preserved, and it is important that this debate in your Lordships’ House has given some balance to this. A noble Lord said that perhaps general aviation feels unloved. Perhaps it does and perhaps it does not, but it is certainly an important factor in our broader aviation system in the UK.

I am not generally a great believer in endless reports from the Secretary of State on every Bill. There are endless demands on the Secretary of State to produce reports, and sometimes I would be interested in the production costs for the Civil Service and the amount of time that this takes. But the fundamental point is well made; a report of the sort that the noble Lord suggested would help to emphasise that and provide a bit of backbone for the Secretary of State in considering these matters. I look forward to my noble friend’s response.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench 5:30 pm, 10th February 2020

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can clear up something in my mind and perhaps in those of other noble Lords. We have talked about general aviation in the usual sense but, looking to the future, we will get more unmanned aircraft either working commercially in one form or another or working for the emergency services and so on. Will they get classified as general aviation? If so, should not their interests also be taken into account? I would like clarification on that particular point.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Chair, SLSC Sub-Committee A

My Lords, I likewise thank the noble Baroness. I must declare an interest. The Light Aircraft Association referred to in the amendment was once the Popular Flying Association, of which I had the honour of being president for a number of years, although I have long since ceased to do that.

There is some merit in concentrating the Secretary of State’s mind on these matters from time to time. I am therefore not unsympathetic to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe—although hopefully today’s exchanges will serve the same purpose.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to a nice, uplifting debate on the final group of amendments in today’s Committee.

This Government, and in particular the current Secretary of State, are big fans of general aviation. We recognise completely that it is a key part of the aviation sector. It is an important source of pilots, engineers and technicians who may in future, in their turn, contribute to the success of commercial aviation; of course, they may instead stay in the general aviation sector and also be successful in its growth. So the Government support general aviation and will continue to ensure that its needs are not overlooked at both the local and national level when it comes to airspace modernisation. I assure noble Lords that we have taken steps to ensure that general aviation is represented at every single level of the airspace modernisation governance structure.

CAP1711b, the Government’s annexe to the airspace modernisation strategy, lists all the organisations that must be engaged. For example, the Airspace Change Organising Group, which is charged with creating the master plan, is required to demonstrate that it has engaged with GA bodies, including Airspace4All and the General and Business Aviation Strategic Forum, which is a much broader forum consisting of lots of different stakeholders from the general aviation sector. It must have carried out that engagement for the master plan to be accepted by the CAA. There are also two general aviation representatives on ACOG’s steering committee. The Airspace Strategy Board was discussed earlier. It is chaired by the Aviation Minister and meets regularly, and it too always has at least two representatives from GA, namely the GA advocate and a representative from, again, the General and Business Aviation Strategic Forum.

Furthermore, under CAP1616, the regulatory process that governs airspace change proposals, there must be consultation with local stakeholders, including general aviation, at many stages.

We are also aware that volumes of controlled airspace are underused. This has been a focus for the Secretary of State, who recently directed the CAA to carry out an airspace classification review to identify volumes of controlled airspace where classification could be amended. This is being done because we feel that we have a good relationship with general aviation and that we understand its needs.

The Secretary of State has also directed the CAA to prioritise airspace change proposals from GA aerodromes relating to global navigation satellite systems—a satnav-type approach. The DfT has provided the CAA with funding to set up a facilitation team to advise and support these small aerodromes in progressing these critical ACPs, and has provided it with financial assistance as well. So I hope that this reassures the noble Lord that we take the contribution of GA very seriously.

Turning to the timing of the proposed report, the amendment states that the Government must assess the impact of airspace modernisation on general aviation within 12 months of the Bill becoming an Act. I am sure that noble Lords will agree—and, indeed, have heard many times today—that this is quite a complex and time-consuming undertaking. Therefore, I do not believe that much airspace change would happen in 12 months, as most of the sponsors would be in a consultation phase for their ACP, and it would certainly be wrong for the Government at that stage to prejudge the outcome of those processes, which are of course independent.

I hope that noble Lords accept my assurances about the importance that the Government attach to general aviation and the measures that we are taking to ensure that all types of aircraft in the general aviation sector are heard, not only in airspace modernisation but far beyond that and within the strategy for the aviation sector as a whole.

I have just realised that I forgot about unmanned aircraft. Of course, airspace for unmanned aircraft will be a very important consideration. At the moment, it is envisaged that they will not fly in controlled airspace, so this is not therefore a matter for consideration today, but in future we will have to consider drones and what used to be called “unmanned traffic management”; I believe that it is now called “unified traffic management”. That is a whole new world of pain that perhaps we will return to in future legislation.

I hope that, based on these assurances, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Chair, SLSC Sub-Committee A

I need to apologise once again to your Lordships, I am afraid. There is an interest I forgot to declare earlier: I am president of the British Association of Aviation Consultants. That is in the register, of course.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate; I have rarely had so much support. The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, hit the nail on the head. Let us go back to the bigger picture. I take the point that this Government probably take general aviation more seriously than any recent Government, and that is a good thing. The problem is that it may well depend on the particular Secretary of State.

The beautiful thing about a regular reporting process is that it concentrates the mind. Anybody who has worked in a large organisation in which several work streams are going along knows that if a work stream is picked out by the chief executive, the board or whoever for regular reports, it sits there in the minds of the officials, operatives, project managers or whoever is trying to do it. They think: “We’ve got to produce this report, and because it will become public we’d better make sure that our reasons for our various actions are well explained.”

On the point about timing, as the Minister knows, it is entirely up to government to bring along amendments to suggest more appropriate timings. This is just an amendment to get the idea off the ground. I think that it is a pretty reasonable idea, and I hope the Government give it some more consideration. Of course, I will look at this debate with great care and decide whether to bring it back on Report. I think it will push things.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I would like to reassure the noble Lord that we will certainly give great consideration to what he has said today, and perhaps after Committee we might have further discussions about what this report might look like.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

With those enthusiastic words, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 23 withdrawn.

Schedule 7 agreed.

House resumed.

Sitting suspended.