Transport Committee report on the use of airspace

10 July 2009

If a third runway is built at Heathrow, the Transport Committee says the Government must set targets and a timetable for reducing the amount of stacking around the airport, to help curb pollution and cut noise levels in the area.

In its latest report on the use of airspace the Committee also calls on the Government to examine the case for constraining the number and the height of flights that pass over Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks to better protect their tranquillity.

With regard to the Single European Sky programme, the Committee supports the greater rationalisation of European airspace to harmonise air traffic management practices at the European level, but remains concerned that the extension of the European Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) remit may tend to lower safety standards. The committee believes the UK's high standards should become the benchmark to which the SES initiative aspires and delivers.

Launching the report, Transport Committee Chairman Louise Ellman MP says:

"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 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.

The report calls on the CAA to:

  • Review its communications strategy in its Directorate of Airspace Policy to ensure that policy and technical matters are communicated in a timely and effective manner to all stakeholders.
  • Present a framework for a Future Airspace Strategy to the Department of Transport and the airline industry that relates clearly to airport development planning and airspace change processes without pre-empting the outcome of those processes.
  • Ensure that National Policy Statements on aviation reflect advice from CAA and NATS about the airspace implications of airport expansion and that the new Infrastructure Planning Commission gets unambiguous guidelines on how to evaluate the airspace implications of any proposal.
  • Produce a strategy within 12 months setting out a timetable and process for the widespread introduction of Precision Area Navigation (P-RNAV) technology in UK airspace. Likewise the CAA is asked to push the industry to adopt Continuous Descent Approaches (CDA), a flight descent technique that minimises fuel burn and noise. The CAA should monitor the CDA performance of major airports and airlines, publish statistics, and promote changes that lead to near universal utilisation of this practice.
  • Lead work to establish the broad costs and benefits of SESAR (the EU air traffic management Research & Development programme) for each of the different sections of the UK aviation industry and set out how the sector intends to improve the phasing of projects within SESAR so as to maximise the benefits to aviation stakeholders most cost-effectively.
  • Set an umambiguous objective in its staff planning for senior post holders within its Directorate of Airspace Policy to represent the broad spectrum of operational expertise in a well balanced manner.

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