I fully recognise the effect on local communities of aircraft noise during the night, particularly the health effects associated with sleep disturbance. As my hon. Friend will be aware, we are consulting on future night flight restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, including options that will reduce the amount of noise that airports are allowed to make while ensuring that we maintain the benefits to the economy of night flights on some key routes.
I hugely welcome the work on this that the Secretary of State is doing, but may I urge him to agree that the major European airports that have brought in quiet periods from 2200 hours onwards offer a very suitable example for airports such as Gatwick that are blighting the lives of many people in towns such as Edenbridge and Penshurst?
I am well aware of the pressures on my hon. Friend’s constituency and neighbouring ones due to night flights and the way in which routes currently operate around Gatwick. As he will know, part of our consultation is about exactly how we use airspace, as well as how we limit the use of night hours for aircraft. I encourage him to take part in that consultation. I do believe, however, that new technology can help us to make a significant difference.
Will the Secretary of State outline his plans to ensure that air links are strengthened for routes from Northern Ireland to the UK mainland, and that any reduction in flights, wherever they may be, will not adversely affect those links or any enhanced provision for Northern Ireland?
That is clearly a very important issue. I am pleased that yesterday my Department announced the very important decision to continue support for the flight from Derry to Stansted. We decided that it was important to make the resource available for that to continue, and I hope that people in Northern Ireland will welcome that.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. I want airports to provide clear incentives to the airlines that use them to make sure that, if they use the night hours, they do so with a new generation of quiet aircraft, which can make a real difference to local people.
May I thank the Secretary of State and his Department for the public service obligation announcement about the Londonderry to London route? Will he also pass on our thanks to Lord Ahmad for the meeting that I suggested should take place in the House several weeks ago, which helped to resolve the matter? We now look forward to the effective marketing of that route so that it can be successful beyond the two-year period that the PSO covers.
I am very happy to pass on those thanks to Lord Ahmad, who has done a great job as aviation Minister. I am glad that we have reached a resolution. I hope that the route will build up sufficiently such that it will become permanently commercial and will not need public support.
I am very sensitive to issues affecting not just people who live near the immediate approaches to airports, but those who live further away, such as my hon. Friend’s constituents. That is why I believe that the better use of air space, particularly with state-of-the-art technology rather than the methods of 40 or 50 years ago, will enable us to provide much more respite for individual communities that are currently affected by aircraft noise.