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House of Commons Hansard
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Edinburgh Airport: Flight Paths
29 October 2018
Volume 648

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Michelle Donelan.)

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Thank you for granting this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, which has taken on a completely different aspect from the one it had when I originally applied. I appreciate that it is on an issue of importance to communities across Scotland and elsewhere who live in the proximity of their local airport or the flight path, but it has a particular resonance for my constituents, who live closest to Edinburgh airport and would argue that they are most affected by the flight path and aircraft noise.

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I appreciate that the hon. Lady has just started her speech and I congratulate her on securing this important debate. She will know that, at the beginning of my time in this place, nearly three years ago, I secured a similar debate. Does she appreciate that about 75% of Edinburgh airport’s aircraft go over my constituency? I would therefore argue that my constituents are as affected as hers, if not more affected.

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I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention; I was going to come on to say that although my constituents who live directly around the airport are affected, I appreciate that communities are affected right across not only Lothian but Fife and as far as Falkirk.

This issue is also vital to the airport itself, which is not only a gateway to Edinburgh and Scotland, but increasingly a gateway to the UK from the United States, Europe, the middle east and, most recently, China. It is one of the biggest employers in my constituency and is a lynchpin of both the local and Scottish economies. It is, though, important to ensure a balance between what is good for jobs and our economy and the welfare of those communities that live side-by-side with the airport or under its flight path. We all know that the operation of airports inevitably impacts on surrounding residents, who have to put up with the high level of noise created by the aircraft.

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I spoke to the hon. Lady before the debate and gently reminded her that Belfast City airport consulted widely with the community around the airport, because that was important to do. There is a 9 pm restriction on flights coming into the airport: if a flight comes in after 9 pm, it is fined. Has she considered what Belfast City airport has done as an example of what could happen elsewhere if the airports, communities and Government decide to do something? That could be successful.

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I was going to mention the timing of flights at Edinburgh airport and other airports during the night, which is currently under discussion.

As anyone who has lived under a flight path will know, the constant whine of jet engines every few minutes can be enough to raise one’s blood pressure, as I know from personal experience. Studies have shown that aircraft noise can be associated with a range of health problems.

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I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate, particularly given how timely it is in the light of the Civil Aviation Authority’s announcement. Although that announcement and the reasons given for it will satisfy some of our constituents’ concerns, it will do nothing to address the problem of ongoing aircraft noise, such as that experienced by my constituents in Blackness, where a pre-existing route that was largely underused on the Grice route has suddenly seen a change in its normal usage. That highlights how inadequate the current procedures are for addressing the issue.

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The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I am sure that noise issues affect all our constituents. We all hear a great many concerns about that. As we become more connected to each other—not just within the House, but the different parts of the UK—the impacts of aviation must be recognised and mitigated in consultation with those affected most.

As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, by coincidence this debate is now particularly timeous. Originally, I was motivated by a call on the Secretary of State to call in the decision, against which I had a great many representations from my constituents. However, just this afternoon, the Civil Aviation Authority announced that it was rejecting the airport’s new flight path proposals, creating a completely different scenario for this debate. For Edinburgh airport, it is a tough blow, but for many of the communities that have endured two or three—as the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) said—years of consultations and campaigning, and more consultations and concerns, it is a disappointment at a time when it seemed to many of them that a solution might be at hand.

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On that specific point, although my constituents may be of a different view about today’s decision, I am sure that they and the hon. Lady will agree that it is vital to have a proper process and a proper legislative framework, as proposed by the Davies report on the third runway at Heathrow. The fact the airports have been allowed to spend money, consult communities and disrupt their lives outside of a proper regulatory framework is the key issue at hand. Her constituents, like mine, have been disadvantaged because a proper framework has not been put in place. Does she agree that we have to make sure that one is put in place, and that it happens soon?

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The hon. Lady makes a good point. The need for a framework and for a way to ensure that it is done properly and that we do not have the technical problems and technicalities that have beset this process is important to everyone present in the Chamber. It is important to those who live around not just Edinburgh airport, but Gatwick, Heathrow, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and every airport in the UK.

For my constituents in Cramond in particular, today’s decision will mean further frustrating delays before they know whether they will benefit from hard work done by themselves and other communities with the airport to find a workable solution. People everywhere affected by this issue need to know where they stand, which is where due process comes in. What will happen now to the flight path proposals and will something be done to control the way that these proposals are made and pursued in future?

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Michelle Donelan.)

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I am sure that the last thing that any of us here wants is for this to become an argument about who is most affected, who is least affected, whether it is the noise, night time or day time—

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It is really important, as other Members have pointed out, that we have a fair and equitable way of dealing with changes to flight paths. Nobody wants to see Edinburgh airport disadvantaged, as it gives a great boost to the local economy. How do we support an airport such as Edinburgh that obviously needs to grow, but at the same time have an honest and open discussion with an airport authority, or an airport company that has not been absolutely fantastic about doing local consultations? Does the hon. Lady agree that we need to work more closely with the airport to make sure that these consultations in future can be meaningful to the people they affect?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I recognise that this a matter of concern not just for my constituency, but for those of a number of others in this Chamber, including the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Lesley Laird), who could not be present tonight, and the hon. Members for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), and for Livingston (Hannah Bardell). Perhaps our experience with the airport has been different in some ways. Some of the communities have found that they have had more of the airport’s ear than others. That, I think, brings us back to the point of the hon. Member for Livingston that there needs to be a regulated process to ensure that, at the end of the day, everyone is happy with the outcome. Perhaps because of that, this is the third time that this process has been held up, causing different frustrations to each of us affected by it.

The first consultation exercise that I was aware of was in 2016, and that has since been followed up in 2017 and 2018. Since I was elected to this place, the flight path proposals have been a recurring theme in discussions with constituents and the airport itself. Since the proposals were lodged, the airport has been asked to look again at the impact on Cramond and now at the impact on Livingston because of what has been described to me as a “technical problem”—there needed to be another consultation because the impact on Livingston had changed.

I mentioned Cramond because it feels that it is perhaps most affected, subject as it is to 100% of aircraft movement—typically, 79% to 80% of the landings, at what has been measured at 650 feet directly above the homes there, take place over Cramond. In a recent consultation that I held with the local community, more than 700 people contacted me about their concerns about aircraft noise in particular, and especially at night. It is a strength of feeling that the airport, I think, does recognise. I have been speaking to the airport since then, as I am sure others have, about how to pursue a limit on the number of night-time flights and a cap on the traffic in and out of Edinburgh airport.

One key issue of that flight path exercise was to find a way ahead that would allow Edinburgh airport to continue its successful trajectory, which has seen it become Scotland’s busiest airport, while respecting and protecting the quality of life of its neighbours. It has not always been, as others have alluded to, a smooth relationship, but everyone involved would recognise that, through the consultations, the noise advisory board and the work within the communities, it is a relationship that can be both positive and productive for both sides. The majority of the airport’s proposals have been backed up by a robust process and community involvement, but, in these proposals, the airport is trying to look ahead to where it will be in 2024, and I cannot be alone in hoping that it does not take that long to come to a final decision. It is the hope of the airport, and I suspect the communities, that it will now be possible to move forward quickly on this decision—fast-track it, if you will—and prevent us from all having to go back to square one, creating more uncertainty, concern and stress for everyone involved, particularly the communities.

At this stage I ask that the Secretary of State to do whatever he can to protect both the wellbeing of the airport and the health and wellbeing of my constituents and others. We are asking not for the decision to be called in and taken by him, but for him to ensure that we get a final decision from those best placed to take it and the best outcome for all, without unnecessary delays and perhaps with an eye to a regulatory framework that might make it easier to come to these decisions in future, not just for Edinburgh but for other airports.

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I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) on securing this important debate on the flight paths at Edinburgh airport. As the airport is in her constituency, I understand that this is a matter of considerable concern to her, both positively, in favour of supporting the airport, and negatively, in favour of supporting the constituents who are affected.

Let me start by talking about the general status of the aviation sector and the airport in general, and then we can focus on the decision reached today and its effect on the hon. Lady’s constituents. I do not need to remind the House that the aviation sector brings enormous benefits to this country. My Department seeks to balance the economic effects of those benefits against the needs of communities affected by any adverse environmental impacts, ensuring that those impacts are properly taken into account.

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Will the Minister expand on the specific proposal for an independent aviation noise authority, as per the Davies report? The proposal in the most recent Government consultation was for that organisation to be at arm’s length from the Civil Aviation Authority, but my understanding is that that is not the best practice example. The Minister’s point about the balance between communities and business is important, but we cannot have airports being the last arbiters on their own aviation noise. That is not good for communities and not good for business.

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The hon. Lady has done a great job of crowbarring a much wider issue into a quite narrowly focused discussion about the flight paths into Edinburgh airport, but I can reassure her that the new agency, which is in the process of being set up, will have plenty of influence over the Government and its chair is being selected as we speak.

Edinburgh is the busiest airport in Scotland—we recognise that—and sixth busiest in the UK. In 2017, it handled over 128,000 aircraft movements and over 13 million passengers, representing 5% and 9% growth respectively on the previous year. At the same time, the airport facilitated the movement of over 20,000 tonnes of freight and 20,000 tonnes of airmail. In terms of connectivity, Edinburgh serves about 150 destinations. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh West will know, this year a number of new routes have been established, including to Washington DC with United Airlines, to Beijing with Hainan Airlines and to Dubai with Emirates. A new service to Philadelphia with American Airlines is scheduled to start next April. That connectivity provides essential links for families, holidaymakers and businesses.

The airport plays a critical role not only for the local community, through jobs and investment, but for Scotland and the whole UK. Indeed, 5,000 people work at Edinburgh airport, many of whom will be the hon. Lady’s constituents. A study by BiGGAR Economics published in March 2016 found that Edinburgh airport contributes nearly £1 billion to the Scottish economy every year and supports more than 23,000 jobs across the country. The report predicted that by 2020 the airport will be worth between £1.1 billion and £1.6 billion gross value added per year and would be supporting not 23,000, but 40,300 Scottish jobs.

Across the UK, the sector as a whole directly supports over 230,000 jobs, with many more employed indirectly, and contributes around £20 billion annually to the UK economy, with an inbound tourism industry across the UK that is worth a further £19 billion. Scotland, of course, has benefited very much from this increased tourism. In recent years, overseas visitor numbers to Scotland have increased sharply to about 3.2 million people in 2016, spending an estimated £2.8 billion. Many of these visitors will have used Edinburgh airport as their gateway to Scotland. I am sure that that would be a pleasurable experience not merely for them but for all travellers, because the airport has been named both as airport of the year at the national transport awards in London earlier this month and as Scottish airport of the year at the Scottish transport awards in June.

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We all know the strengths and relative strengths of Edinburgh airport and what it gives to our local economy, but there is nevertheless a disconnect in the consultation process with regard to communities such as Inverkeithing and North Queensferry and other areas that other Members have mentioned. Surely, we, as communities, should be partners in the future of Edinburgh airport and its success, instead of being the very last consideration that the airport seems to make. What reassurances can the Minister give us that that situation might change?

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Understandably, I am not going to comment on the process that has been involved because it is well laid out in statute and it is not appropriate for the Government to make comments specifically about the processes themselves. This is a devolved matter, of course, and one would expect the Scottish Government, working with the local communities involved and the local Members of Parliament, to put together a solution that has maximum benefit for the whole city, rather than seeking to beggar one’s neighbour by playing off one community against another. I think that mechanisms exist to address that.

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rose

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Unfortunately, I need to make some progress if I am to conclude this debate, so I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me if I do not give way. She has had a shot already and can hopefully have another later on if I can make some more progress.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh West rightly congratulated the airport on the achievements that I mentioned. I think that hon. Members will join me in also congratulating the airport on these awards and recognising the importance of the airport to the local and wider community.

It is important to reassure the House that the Government recognise, as I have said, not just the economic benefits but the impact on communities that are overflown by aircraft—precisely the issue raised by the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) in relation to the community in North Queensferry. That is why the Government’s policy, as set out in the aviation policy framework, is

“to limit and, where possible, reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise”.

Edinburgh, like all larger airports across the UK, is required, in accordance with its obligations under the environmental noise directive, to produce a noise action plan. The airport consulted on its latest plan earlier this year in relation to the period 2018-23. In its plan, the airport stresses its continued commitment to manage the impacts of aircraft noise and to engage with local communities. If it discharges the obligations that it has laid on itself, then that will hopefully go some way towards addressing the issues that have been raised.

A good example of the airport seeking to engage with those communities is the launch earlier this year of a new noise and track-keeping system that allows members of the public, via a web browser, to track aircraft and view noise monitor data, as well as to register noise complaints. We have seen at other airports the benefits that communities can derive from the use of these systems. While the UK Government do not set noise restrictions for Scottish airports, noise and airport policy being devolved, we do set the overall framework for airspace. It will be well known that these arrangements, historically, have been based on a set-up that is almost 50 years old. We believe that this architecture is inefficient and inadequate in today’s world and can lead to unnecessary delays for passengers and excessive impacts on the environment and on the communities around airports.

The UK is therefore progressing with a major modernisation of airspace over the coming decade. This is designed to improve the efficiency of our airspace through the use of new technology and procedures. An important by-product of that work should be to enable departing aircraft to climb more quickly out of the airport and arriving traffic to descend more continuously, with less reliance on the use of holding stacks—a more efficient and environmentally friendly means of getting to the airport.

There have also been important advances in aircraft technology, which have provided great improvements in the environmental performance of aircraft frame design and engines, in terms of both noise and carbon emissions. For example, new generation aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 737 MAX have a noise footprint that is typically 50% smaller on departure and 30% smaller on arrival than the aircraft they are replacing, which has had an important effect on reducing the noise experienced on the ground.

As the House is aware, the Government have committed to the creation of an Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise, which the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) referred to. ICCAN will help to rebuild the trust lost in industry by communities and ensure that the noise impacts of airspace changes are properly considered, by giving communities a greater stake in noise management.

Looking ahead, the Department is also developing a new aviation strategy, the purpose of which is

“to achieve a safe, secure and sustainable aviation sector that meets the needs of consumers and of a global, outward-looking Britain.”

The strategy will consider how we can maximise the role that our-world class aviation sector plays in developing global trade links, providing vital connections from this country to the world’s growing economies and to more established trading partners. We expect to deliver a final aviation strategy next year.

In that context, I turn to the events of today, to update the House on this morning’s important developments regarding Edinburgh’s flight path proposal, which the hon. Member for Edinburgh West referred to. As she will know, Edinburgh submitted its airspace change proposal to the independent Civil Aviation Authority in August. In the intervening period, the CAA has been considering whether the proposal complies with its requirements. The CAA has now determined that the proposal is not compliant with its requirements. It is therefore minded to reject it.

It is now up to the airport to determine its next steps. It has made an announcement on this, but further announcements doubtless will follow. I hope that the hon. Lady, her constituents and the House will agree that the CAA’s decision to reject the Edinburgh airport proposal demonstrates that we have an independent and effective airspace regulator—one widely respected around the world—that is prepared to ensure its requirements are met and is capable of making what are, in some cases, undoubtedly difficult decisions when it considers that they are necessary.

If the airport wishes to proceed with an airspace change proposal, it is our understanding that it must comply with the new CAA airspace change process, known as CAP1616. In doing so, it must follow my Department’s air navigation guidance to the CAA, which was updated in October 2017 following a major public consultation on airspace and noise policies. That requires the airport to consider multiple options, to analyse them using the DFT’s WebTAG analysis tool and to consult on the options that it considers practical. If another proposal is put forward by Edinburgh airport, communities near the airport will be able to have a greater say in the final option to be chosen. That is the important point.

The CAP1616 process also brings with it increased transparency via the new airspace change portal, which the CAA launched last week. All relevant details of future airspace change proposals will be publicly available on that portal. The House should welcome that initiative, which increases transparency and accessibility for communities and local people.

My Department has received a request from North Queensferry Community Council to exercise the call-in function that now exists for airspace changes in relation to the pending proposal on which the CAA has opined. We have yet to consider the CAA’s overall assessment of whether the call-in criteria have been met by the Edinburgh airport proposal. My Department will now, as a priority, consider in depth the CAA’s assessment of the Edinburgh proposal. We will then write to the CAA and North Queensferry Community Council to confirm our decision on the call-in. We appreciate fully that the communities around the airport and the airport itself will want to know that decision as soon as possible.

This has been an important and useful debate. I am glad that we have had a chance to discuss these issues, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing this to the Government’s attention.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.