New targets for Heathrow airport needed to reduce noise and pollution

July 13, 2009 at 11:57 am Leave a comment

heathrowplane
The Commons Transport Select Committee has produced a report on the use of UK airspace.

It says the Government must set targets and a timetable for reducing the amount of stacking around Heathrow airport, to help curb pollution and cut noise levels in the area.

The committee also recommends constraining the number and the height of flights that pass over Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks to better protect their tranquillity.

The number of passengers passing through UK airports will increase from 241 million passengers a year in 2007 to 455 million passengers a year in 2030.

This UK growth matches air traffic predictions for the whole continent.

Eurocontrol, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, predicts that European air traffic will double by 2020.

Transport Committee Chairman Louise Ellman MP said:

“If a third runway at Heathrow Airport is built, then the Government should set targets to cut stacking and add resilience to the air traffic management system, placing these targets within the relevant National Policy Statement for the development, and giving the CAA responsibility to monitor their delivery.

“Tranquillity is a key factor in sensitive areas such as National Parks.

“Current guidance appears to allow unchecked increases in aviation activity over these areas.

“Without some level of constraint, the noise environment in these areas may degrade progressively as traffic increases.

“The Department of Transport should fund exploratory research on how to set useful limits.

“However, in general we found a lot to praise about the current management of UK airspace, not least the technical competence, professionalism and excellent record of both the CAA and NATS.

“We do not believe that decision making about airspace should pass to a different organisation even though we do think the CAA must review the techniques they use to design controlled airspace around airports and improve the way it communicates with stakeholders.

“It should also encourage a choice of options is offered wherever airspace changes are proposed.”

The committee report said:

“A country’s airspace—the portion of atmosphere above its territory and territorial waters, controlled by that country—is a finite resource. UK airspace, particularly in the South-East of England, is already some of the busiest and most complex to manage in the world.

“NATS (formerly National Air Traffic Services) handled nearly 2.5 million flights in 2007, with 1.4 million (up to 4,500 flights per day) handled over southern England.

“The interactions of flight routes serving a large number of airports within a relatively small geographical area in the South-East are a major limiting factor to increasing airspace capacity.

“Nearly doubling the number of air passengers flying by 2030 will almost certainly require improvements in the efficiency of the UK air traffic management system.

“The UK’s ability to meet the White Paper growth forecasts will depend on the success of the Single European Sky (SES) initiatives.

“There will be improvements in the structure of European airspace and new technologies will be developed and implemented, through the SESAR (Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research) programme.”

The Committee said it remains concerned that the extension of the European Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) remit may tend to lower safety standards.

IT believes  the UK’s “high standards” should become the benchmark to which the SES initiative aspires and delivers.

The report calls on the Department of Transport to:

* Issue up to date environmental guidance to the CAA before the end of this year (2009), setting out current government thinking on CO2 and other emissions in relation to transport decision making. It needs to clarify how the CAA is expected to make its airspace assessments in reference to this.

* Provide six-monthly reports of progress made on the performance of the European Aviation Safety Agency’s performance as part of a wider efforts to ensure an extension of the agency’s remit does not drive down safety standards.

Click here to read the report.

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