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Gatwick-Heathrow (Helicopter Service)

Volume 975: debated on Friday 7 December 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he intends to direct the Civil Aviation Authority to revoke or vary the licence granted recently for the continuation of the helicopter service between Heathrow and Gatwick Airports.

The Civil Aviation Authority is required by paragraph 21 of the policy guidance to take full account of the environment in exercising its functions. It is obliged by section 34 of the Civil Aviation Act 1971 to tell the Secretary of State when it takes a step with environmental implications.From the decision and the supporting documents which have been made available to the Department, it appears that the Authority has given a full opportunity to the objectors to make their case, that it has imposed some conditions of an environmental kind but has rejected others. In so doing and in referring the matter to the Secretary of State the Authority has amply fulfilled the requirements of the guidance and the Act.I have reviewed the papers myself. I accept that the economic case for granting the licence is strong and that further conditions to reduce the environmental impact would not be appropriate. I do not therefore propose to direct the Authority to amend or revoke the licence. In particular, I felt that the Authority was right to decide that there would be no worthwhile environmental gain in specifying the route or in ordering a later start to operations.With regard to the situation at the southern end of the route on which the Authority professed itself unable to form a judgment, I consider that its comprehensive investigation makes it clear that the environmental advantages of requiring the service to use the fixed wing approach are at best uncertain, and that they would be more than counterbalanced by the disruption that this would occasion to fixed wing operations.The replacement under the current Civil Aviation Bill of the guidance by a clear statutory duty to consider environmental matters when hearing air transport licence applications should usefully clarify the Authority's position in future cases of this kind.