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Better environmental regulation needed for airspace, say MPs

14th July, 2009

The government should constrain the increase in flights over quiet areas and produce guidance on how air traffic managers should balance noise and fuel efficiency considerations, a committee of MPs has concluded.

The Transport Committee is not noted for its environmental concerns, counting among its 11 members the former chair of Manchester Airport and an MP who claims, despite scientific consensus, that man-made climate change is a con. So it is particularly significant that its report published last week on the use of airspace emphasises the need for better regulation of environmental impacts.

AEF was invited to give oral evidence to the committee inquiry in February . Many of the committee’s conclusions reflect AEF’s input, with the report backing AEF’s demands for:

  • Clearer government guidance for the CAA, which regulates air traffic control, on how noise and efficiency considerations should be prioritised in cases where diverting planes away from populations who are disturbed by noise would require longer, more fuel-intensive routes
  • Protection of tranquil areas and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty from increasing noise pollution
  • A single integrated EU airspace block to help tackle inefficiencies in routing
  • Development of a long-term airspace master plans, and
  • Careful consideration of airspace management in the planning process.

We were disappointed, however, by the report’s implication that expansion at Heathrow airport could be an appropriate way to tackle the negative environmental impacts of “stacking” – where aircraft circle in the air waiting to land. We would, of course, support measures to minimise fuel wastage. But any potential reduction in stacking that could come as a consequence of Heathrow expansion would be dwarfed by the massive increase in emissions that the extra air traffic would generate.

Decisions about air traffic management have implications both in terms of noise and emissions and there is currently no clear steer from Government on how to reconcile these considerations when they come into conflict. But when it’s the increase in traffic that’s causing problems at an airport like Heathrow, simply providing more space for more aircraft is no solution.

Transport Committee report on the use of air space

AEF comment in the Evening Standard July 09

AEF’s written evidence to the Transport Select Committee