My Lords, the Government are aware that night noise continues to be a concern for residents around Heathrow. We have extended the current night-time flying regime at Heathrow for two years until October 2014 and will begin a review later this year on its replacement. In considering a new regime, it is important that we take care to strike a balance between noise disturbance and the economic benefits of night flights.
My Lords, local residents are woken from 4 am onwards not because of capacity issues at Heathrow but because of limits on departure schedules at other airports. If the Government will not commit to eliminating night flights, will they at least undertake to negotiate with the relevant countries for a timetable that is gentler for residents under the flight path in this country? Will they also negotiate with the airlines to get them to commit to put the latest, quietest aircraft on these routes? I understand that none has yet committed to doing so for early landings.
My Lords, my noble friend makes a number of points. She referred to aircraft coming from distant countries. It is important to remember that if we insist on a later arrival time in the UK, a plane may have to leave the Far East later at night and that may cause a problem there. My noble friend talked about quieter and noisier aircraft. A quota system takes into account the noisiest aircraft, which cannot fly until later in the day.
My Lords, can the Minister give an assurance that, when the Government conduct their assessment into whether to allow more night flights, they will take into account the economic disbenefits, as well as the effects of sleep deprivation and other social effects of night flights, set against the economic benefits that may come from having more planes arriving earlier?
My Lords, is the Minister aware that more and more flights from Scotland are being cancelled by airlines so that they can free up slots for other destinations? Is it not about time that the Government stopped dithering and made a decision to go ahead with a new runway at Heathrow?
My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that the noise problem is not confined to Heathrow Airport? There are considerable problems with noise over Stansted Airport, for example, and I declare an interest as a supporter of the Stop Stansted Expansion campaign. Can he say whether the Civil Aviation Bill, which is shortly to be introduced in this House, will take any account of this issue and whether it will contain any provisions for strengthening the regime that limits night flights?
My Lords, as currently drafted, the Bill does not say anything about night flights, although the noble Baroness might tempt me with an amendment. It is important to understand that the problem of Heathrow is much greater than that of the other two London airports. Some 228,000 people are affected at Heathrow, whereas at Gatwick and Stansted the figure is only between 1,000 and 2,000, so the problem at Heathrow is much more serious. However, all three London airports have noise controls imposed by central government.
The work that I have done on the Civil Aviation Bill has shown me that there is a lot of spare capacity at Stansted, Luton, Gatwick and Birmingham, an airport which I am just about to visit. The release of that capacity is dependent on improved surface connections to all four airports. I urge the Minister to look into that before we try to put everything into Heathrow and so get some of the traffic spread out because it is not all hub traffic.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Foulkes described the circumstances arising out of his question, such as the slotting of aircraft. The Minister replied to the issue of the slots but he never replied to the point about the dithering over the decision, for which the Government are responsible, about the third runway at Heathrow.
My Lords, the Minister may or may not be dithering about Heathrow, but the Government have certainly dithered on the aviation Bill when environmental issues have cropped up in relation to airports. Will he take note of the fact that we will use the opportunities provided by the aviation Bill to examine thoroughly the Government’s position on these important environmental matters? I am very pleased today to see how many people, right across the House, are concerned.