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Night flights & the Minister
Q&A Drop in
This Saturday 12th August - tomorrow - Penshurst 10.30am - 12.30pm
I will be in the Leicester Arms ready to try and help you with any questions you may have about flight paths, and look forward to seeing you.
There is a huge amount going on behind the scenes by so many to try and improve our airspace. I set out below just one area of our current discussions - night flights.
Many of you have responded to calls from us to bring the government to the table over night flights. You also responded in huge numbers when we pointed out the fact that Gatwick charges far less for night landings.
Charles Lloyd, a key member of Gatwick Obviously Not and Chair of the more national Aviation Communities Forum has been in correspondence with the DfT about night flights.
His exchange with the Minister pull no punches and it is set out in full below his cover note to all campaign groups, in italics
"The government's decisions on night flight restrictions for designated airports were announced on 13 July. Although some aspects are mildly positive, overall they are a significant disappointment. There's been some correspondence with Lord Callahan both in advance of and following the decision. [Set out below - if you only read one, read the top one]
Although the formal process has now ended, there are two areas where we feel that the government's decisions are irrational because they are inconsistent with its objective. Together with the Aviation Environment Federation and Stop Stansted Expansion we have therefore written to the National Audit Office (NAO) asking it to review both the process the department used to set ;night flight restrictions and the two specific decisions. We are also hoping to get local MPs to lobby the government to reverse those decisions.
Separately three groups, one each from Gatwick, Heathrow and Luton, have written to the NAO asking it to review the broader way in which the department has set and sought to achieve its aviation noise policy.
Gatwick Obviously Not
EMAIL TO LORD CALLANAN RE NIGHT FLIGHT DECISIONS, 24 JULY
Dear Lord Callanan
Thank you for your letter of 18 July.
I'm responding because I think it's important that you understand the views of impacted communities on the government's decision on night flight restrictions.
The Secretary of State said in his statement to Parliament "I am fully aware that noise is a major concern for those living near these airports, and that night noise is widely regarded as the most disturbing impact of aviation … This decision should be seen as a signal that this government takes this issue very seriously."
Regrettably the process you and your department have been through - review, consultation and now decision - have convinced the overwhelming majority of people in impacted communities of precisely the opposite. Optimism that a new Aviation Minister and a new senior team of officials might be more willing to listen and act on important issues has evaporated, with damaging consequences for wider policy discussions to come.
I've tried to explain why below.
The first step your officials took in the night flight review - focus groups in mid 2016 - was widely seen as sensible and generally welcomed. But follow through was inadequate. There was no subsequent discussion on the impact assessment methodology the department intended to adopt and, critically, the environmental objective proposed was never aired with communities.
The result was that the consultation document published in January 2017 was fundamentally flawed. Most importantly the component of the proposed objective "… while maintaining the existing benefits of night flights…" allowed the department to curtail its analysis and focus on relatively trivial tweaks to the regime rather than the core issues. No bottom-up analysis of the costs and benefits of night flights ("the most disturbing impact of aviation" remember) was done, and none has been done for more than a decade now. No options involving significant change to the current regime were considered.
The department has never explained why the existing benefits of night flights were the appropriate amount to protect. Why not 10% more benefits? Or 30% less? Better still why not do a proper assessment of the costs and benefits of night flights as any serious regulator would? And you were never required to take seriously the "growing evidence that exposure to higher levels of aircraft noise can adversely affect people's health". A set of skewed priorities was laid bare and the opportunity to do a meaningful piece of work passed up.
This is subjective, sloppy, finger in the air, policy-making. It's wholly inconsistent with the Secretary of State's assertion that night noise is taken "very seriously". It's particularly disappointing that you personally chose to associate yourself with an approach that was so clearly flawed without making any attempt to understand our perspective.
Against that background it was inevitable that the proposals in the consultation would be disappointing. In terms of the number of flights and the noise quotas they offered communities no improvement as compared to the status quo. In terms of regulatory technology, the closing of the exempt aircraft loop-hole was important and welcome. And the prospect of gradual reductions in the noise quota suggested that the department might have recognised the need to put in place a regime that incentivised the industry to improve its performance over time. That was a ray of light in an otherwise gloomy landscape.
But the decisions you've just announced are a step backwards from the consultation proposals and so a further setback for communities. Every change you've made benefits the industry and harms communities. Proposals that would improve the position for the industry have been accepted; every proposal - hundreds of them - that would improve the position for communities have been rejected.
Your decision to drop any reduction in noise quotas over time is especially disappointing: that ray of light extinguished. The regime you've announced will perpetuate a position where there's no meaningful incentive for the industry to use quieter aircraft at night. The criticism the Secretary of State himself levied at the current arrangements that "_the limits governing night noise … has not kept pace with these developments_" is likely to apply again well before the end of the five-year period.
I have two other comments:
In several respects the decisions you've announced are inconsistent with your objective. First, allowing both Gatwick and Stansted significantly more movements than they currently use in the winter period is not "maintaining the existing benefits of night flights" it is allowing the industry substantial additional benefits at the expense of communities. This is irrational and perverse. It should be reversed. Secondly, as discussed above, normal fleet replacement cycles should result in a declining noise quota usage over time, as the historical data shows. Retaining a constant quota for the full five-year period will allow the industry to increase the average size of aircraft, thereby also increasing rather than maintaining benefits, again at the expense of communities. This too should be reversed.
Finally, a consequence of your decisions and the wider process is that the department and the government have largely ceased to be seen as a credible consultor on aviation matters. Your letter encourages us to continue to work with the department on important matters, but many people will conclude that engagement is pointless. The common thread running through your response to the Airports Commission, your airspace consultation and now your night flight decisions is that the government is not willing to do anything that might increase costs for the industry, constrain it in any meaningful way or make it more accountable for its impacts. You offer vague policy statements and talking shops but take a do-minimum approach whenever tangible action is needed. People faced by a government that doesn't listen or act will eventually cease to engage through normal democratic channels. This may not concern you but it should: 40 years of history tells us that airspace modernisation will only happen if a fair bargain can be struck between the interests of the industry and of impacted communities. That is not currently happening.
You can of course ignore this, or ask your officials to prepare the normal brush-off response. I hope you'll feel you need to do more. I have two suggestions. First, make an offer to communities to explain and defend your decisions to them personally. The decision document glosses over and dismisses almost everything we've proposed. I think we're owed more than that. Secondly, given widespread concern over the way in which the department and the government have approached their statutory role as night noise regulator, appoint an authoritative, independent, person, perhaps from another regulatory body, to review the process you've carried out and make recommendations for change.
Chair, Aviation Communities Forum
Thank you for your letters of 12 and 13 June to Chris Grayling on behalf of aviation noise community groups, about the government's recent consultation on UK Airspace Policy, and your email to me on 30 June about the night flight restrictions set by the government at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Your letters to the Secretary of State has been passed to me as the Minister responsible for aviation matters.
The government recognises these issues are important for communities and are committed to making sure their interests are properly considered when airspace modernisation takes place. I know my officials have valued the responses received from communities to our consultation, including those that you raise in your letter, and will take these into account before any policy decisions are taken. The upcoming Aviation Strategy will also present a further opportunity to consider any issues related to noise that fall outside of UK airspace policy.
You will have seen that the government has recently announced its final decision on what night flight restrictions shall apply from October of this year. As our government response makes clear, we recognise that night flights are widely regarded as the most disturbing impact of aircraft operations but that they bring benefits to the UK economy. We understand how communities feel about this issue from the consultation responses we received and other conversations we have had on this matter, and took this into account when reaching our decision. In doing so, we have taken steps to ensure that the restrictions allow us to continue to reap the benefits that night flights offer while also taking steps to protect communities through preventing any increases in the number of flights or the amount of noise allowed. The reasons behind our decision on the restrictions are set out in full in our government response.
Regarding your comments on the role of the Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC), you are correct that their role is not to comment on the merits of government policy or a specific objective, but to review whether there is adequate justification for intervention and that the impacts of government policy have been properly assessed against this objective. The RPC found that our impact assessment on the new night flights regime was fit for purpose and that the Department has appropriately considered the impacts on communities affected by noise, along with those on business, as a result of the change in the restrictions. They also concluded that the list of costs and benefits identified in the assessment was comprehensive.
I hope this response is helpful in setting out the government's stance on these matters and I would encourage you to continue working with department on these important issues.
EMAIL TO LORD CALLANAN RE NIGHT FLIGHT CONSULTATION, 30 JUNE
Dear Lord Callanan
Congratulations on your appointment as Aviation Minister.
One of the issues on which your officials will be seeking an urgent decision from you is the night flight restrictions to apply at the three designated airports from October 2017. The Department consulted on a number of options together with a preferred outcome in January 2017 and a decision is awaited.
We do not of course know what advice you have been offered and what decision you may take, but we want to draw your personal attention to what we regard as serious deficiencies in the Department's approach to this issue, manifested in an inadequate methodology and a flawed options analysis on which the consultation was based. In our view these factors mean that robust regulatory conclusions cannot be reached from the consultation and the central proposals in it should not be implemented other than on temporary basis.
Night flights are a scourge. They are the deeply damaging to impacted communities as a whole and to the health of many people. They are the source of many of the complaints made to airports and, as the consultation said, they are "the least acceptable form off aircraft operations".
That is why they have been regulated by governments for many years. But regulation is only credible if the regulator carefully weighs up the costs and benefits of night flights and determines a considered, reasoned, balance between them. Regrettably that did not happen in this case. Instead the Department started with an explicit objective of "maintaining the benefits of night flights" and then considered a number of relatively modest tweaks to the regime within that constraint. Although the Department's Impact Assessment explained its purpose was to ensure that "the economic benefits of night flights are balanced with the costs these impose on communities, including sleep disturbance", no such assessment was made. I'm sure you'd agreed that no meaningful options appraisal can start by assuming what the right answer should be. But that is exactly what the Department has done.
You may have been told that the Regulatory Policy Committee approved the consultation, and perhaps drawn some comfort from that. Sadly, that would be a mistake. The RPC have made it clear to us that they do not challenge government objectives, just the way in which it is proposed that those objectives should be achieved. They have not therefore endorsed the approach taken on this occasion.
All these points were made to your officials immediately after the consultation was published, but we want to ensure that have been brought to your personal attention. I attach a copy of the detailed pack prepared jointly by community groups around Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted which was discussed with and then sent to officials. This also makes suggestions on what should now be done given the urgent need to determine a regulatory regime from October 2017.
With best regards.
Chair, Aviation Communities Forum
Sent via email
9 August 2017
Dear NAO Transport VFM team,
DEPARTMENT FOR TRANSPORT: NIGHT FLIGHT RESTRICTIONS AT DESIGNATED AIRPORTS
We are writing to ask you to review the process through which the Department for Transport has recently determined night flight restrictions at the three designated airports (Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted) and certain of the decisions announced by the government on 13 July 2017.
In our view the process the department followed was not fit for purpose and a number of the decisions now announced are clearly not consistent with the objective the government is seeking to achieve. These processes and decisions effectively prioritise the business benefits of night flights over the environmental impact on local communities, and are unlikely to help address noise pollution problems. We believe poor policy development processes and inconsistent decision-making are important matters that would benefit from investigation by a respected independent body.
The background to this request and our concerns are set out more fully below.
Night flight restrictions at designated airports
The power for the Secretary of State to set night flight restrictions for designated airports is found in section 78 of the 1982 Civil Aviation Act. This allows action to be taken to avoid, limit or mitigate the effect of noise from aircraft. Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports have been designated for this purpose since 1971.
Night flight restrictions of some form have been in place at Heathrow since 1962, Gatwick since 1971 and Stansted since 1978. The underlying principle of the restrictions has been to balance the need to protect local communities from excessive aircraft noise at night - which the government recognises is the least acceptable aspect of aircraft operations - with permitting the operation of services that provide benefits to the aviation industry and wider economy. Since 1993, the regime has limited the number of flights and amount of noise energy that can be emitted at each airport.
The current restrictions expire in October 2017. In July 2017 the department published the details of the subsequent 'regime', which is due to remain in place until October 2022.
The department's process and the environmental objective
The department held stakeholder focus groups on successor arrangements in mid 2016 and prepared summaries of the issues discussed at these meetings. However, there was no subsequent discussion on the impact assessment methodology the department intended to adopt and, critically, its draft environmental objective was not discussed prior to publication of its consultation document.
A consultation document was published in January 2017. The environmental objective proposed in the consultation document was to "encourage the use of quieter aircraft to limit or reduce the number of people significantly affected by aircraft noise at night, while maintaining the existing benefits of night flights". The objective as published in the decision document was to "Limit or reduce the number of people significantly affected by aircraft noise at night, including through encouraging the use of quieter aircraft, while maintaining the existing benefits of night flights". We support the change in the wording between the draft and the final version since it allows for the government to continue to use additional policy measures alongside incentives for quieter aircraft.
Nevertheless, we contend that the objective remains inconsistent with the role the department and the government are required to play in relation to night flights. The government's role, in our view, was to weigh up carefully the costs and benefits of night flights and determine a considered, reasoned, balance between them. Indeed the department's Impact Assessment explained that its purpose was to ensure that "the economic benefits of night flights are balanced with the costs these impose on communities, including sleep disturbance".
In this case, however, no such assessment was made. Instead, because its proposed objective included "maintaining the existing benefits of night flights", the department felt it was not necessary to carry out a bottom up assessment of benefits and costs and did not do so. Instead it examined the costs and benefits of a number of relatively modest amendments to the night flight regime within the constraint imposed by its proposed objective. The decision document (in 2.22) acknowledges that the number of night flights that take place should not be assumed to be an appropriate indicator of the benefit of night flights. But rather than redo the impact appraisal for this review to take account of this, it commits only that for any future revisions to the regime it will consider alternative approaches to quantifying benefits.
We do not believe that a meaningful options appraisal can start by assuming, as the department has done, what the right answer should be. We consider this to be a serious deficiency in the department's methodology resulting in a flawed options analysis. In our view these factors mean that robust regulatory conclusions cannot be reached from the impact assessment and consultation the department has carried out and therefore that the decisions the government has announced are not sound. We do not consider that waiting until the next regime is consulted on before attempting to develop a better approach is acceptable.
All these points were made to the department immediately after the consultation was published. We attach a copy of a detailed presentation pack prepared jointly by community groups around Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted, which was discussed with, and then sent to, officials.
Inconsistencies between the objective and the government's decisions
In addition to these significant concerns about the wording of the objective, we believe that the decisions the government has announced are inconsistent with its existing objective in two main respects.
First, both Gatwick and Stansted are to be allowed significantly more aircraft movements than they currently use in the winter period. In our view this cannot be considered to be "maintaining the existing benefits of night flights". Rather it will allow the industry substantial additional benefits at the expense of communities.
Secondly, normal fleet replacement cycles tend to mean that noisier and less fuel efficient aircraft are replaced with quieter and more fuel efficient aircraft over time. If replacement is on a like-for-like basis as regards aircraft capacity, this should result in a declining noise quota usage over time. The historical data supports this analysis. Retaining a constant noise quota for the full five-year period will therefore allow the industry to increase the average size of aircraft, thereby also increasing, rather than maintaining, the benefits of night flights.
More broadly we believe the government's decision to retain constant noise quotas over the full five years of the next regulatory period will perpetuate a position where there is no meaningful incentive for the industry to use quieter aircraft at night. The Secretary of State in his statement to Parliament said "the limits governing night noise … ha[ve] not kept pace with these developments". For the reasons above this is likely to apply again well before the end of the five-year period. We do not believe this is good regulation.
We hope you will agree to review these matters. We would be happy to brief you more fully if that would be helpful.
Director, Aviation Environment Federation
Chair, Aviation Communities Forum
Stop Stansted Expansion
Sent via email
5th August 2017
Dear NAO Transport VFM team,
We are writing to you with serious concerns about the way in which the Department for Transport (DfT) is seeking to drive change in the aviation sector, specifically in relation to the issue of aviation noise.
Our prime concern is that the DfT is setting aspirations for aviation noise without putting in place any levers to achieve these aspirations. The result of this is that the opposite is being achieved. We believe this demonstrates the DfT is not being efficient or effective on this matter, and so is achieving poor value for money. As such, we believe this is an issue that should be investigated by the NAO.
This lack of effectiveness has serious implications:
The department states its intention is to limit and where possible reduce the number of people 'significantly affected' by aviation noise. However, as our evidence below shows, noise complaint and complainant figures have actually increased markedly in recent years, demonstrating that in fact more people than ever are significantly affected.
This is of particular concern because overexposure to aviation noise is associated with a range of impacts on health, education and the housing market (evidence below), with associated costs to public services and the economy.
In terms of regulation: this means that citizens are not being protected from the effects of aviation noise, as a result of poor regulation by the DfT.
In terms of health, education and the housing market: absence of oversight means the aviation sector can pursue marginal benefits for the sector without reference to the externalities of their actions. This is economically inefficient. Aviation noise needs to be regulated, so that benefits accrued can be balanced against disbenefits accrued in other areas of society.
We are taking the step of writing to you because campaign groups have been engaging with the DfT for some time on these matters, and we do not believe our concerns are being adequately addressed. The department's Aviation Policy Framework (2013) states that "our overall objective on noise is to limit and where possible reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise" (p11). Since 2015 we have been engaging with the department to make them aware that the opposite is happening, and to argue that levers will be required if their aspirations are to be achieved. In January 2017, they started consulting on new policy proposals, but we do not consider that these proposals will rectify the situation.
We firmly believe there is now a need for the insight, scrutiny and influence of the NAO to ensure that: the DfT starts operating effectively in pursuit of its stated aims; citizens are protected; and, as a society, we start balancing the benefits and disbenefits of aviation to avoid serious consequences for areas like health and education. Below we have provided evidence, with links, to assist in an initial scoping of this matter. We are of course ready and willing to provide any further assistance and detail that may be necessary.
Many thanks in anticipation,
Teddington Action Group (Heathrow campaign group)
St Albans Quieter Skies (Luton campaign group)
Gatwick Obviously Not (Gatwick campaign group)
Cc. Sarah Bishop (Department for Transport), Clare Moriarty (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Clara Swinson (Department of Health), Ben Fenech (Public Health England), Jonathan Slater (Department for Education)
Cc. NAO DEFRA VFM team, NAO Health VFM team, NAO Education VFM team, NAO Regulation VFM team, NAO Communities & Local Government VFM team
I. Policy, regulatory and legal context
- The DfT's current aspirations for aviation noise (in the 2013 Aviation Policy Framework) are available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/aviation-policy-framework
- The new policy proposals (consulted on by DfT from January to May 2017) are available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/reforming-policy-on-the-design-and-use-of-uk-airspace
- The absence of a regulatory framework for the aviation industry is evident in: the absence of noise from the operating principles of NATS (the UK’s main Air Navigation Service Provider); the fact that NATS' license does not require it to take account of noise; the lenient arrangements under which airports are invited to fine airlines on noise abatement matters; the fact there are no incentives for aviation to achieve the government's objectives on noise and other environmental matters; most poor flying practices have no financial consequences; and the Civil Aviation Authority is told by DfT that noise should be its environmental priority up to 4,000 feet but has no meaningful levers to achieve that priority.
- The majority of regulatory powers for the sector are held by DfT, with some held by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
- There is also an absence of a legal framework in this area, which means that citizens have no realistic means of redress. The absence of a legal framework is evident in the fact that aviation is protected against reasonable nuisance claims; it sits outside standard 'polluter pays' principles; it is not subject to the noise regulation which applies to every other industry; and it has no liability to compensate for loss of value and most other impacts it causes.
- In July 2017 DfT launched a 'call for evidence' to inform a new aviation strategy. This asks "whether it is possible to design targets for noise reduction" (p60). The fact that DfT are considering noise reduction targets is heartening, and an improvement on their position to-date. However, it is just a possibility being consulted on, and given DfT's historic lack of stringency on noise, we do not believe the proposal will necessarily bear fruit. Further information on the 'call for evidence' is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/a-new-aviation-strategy-for-the-uk-call-for-evidence
- In April 2016, the NAO completed a sustainability review of DfT's activities (https://www.nao.org.uk/report/departmental-sustainability-overview-department-for-transport/).
Following this, the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee held an enquiry (http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/inquiry/).
We believe this should be taken into account when investigating the issues raised; however, the scope of the problem we have outlined is quite different to that which has already been investigated.
II. Rise in noise complaints and complainants
- The data we have gathered relates to the rise in noise complaint and complainant figures following the introduction of DfT-mandated 'performance based navigation' (PBN) at each of the London airports. This is relevant because PBN has resulted in flight-paths being concentrated over certain communities, leading to significant increases in complaints and complainants. The figures are available in the table below.
- It is important to note that these are not temporary increases. Where PBN was implemented earlier (e.g. at Gatwick and Heathrow), data is available showing the increases are sustained.
- Also relevant is the fact that plans are in place to implement PBN across the rest of the UK, and so we are likely to see this trend repeated across the country. In addition, impacts are likely to multiply in future years, given DfT predicts exponential increase in UK air travel (i.e. it will double between now and 2050). Meeting this demand will only be possible with more concentrated flight paths, and therefore presumably more people being affected in the same way.
- To gain a broader understanding of the figures, please view the data provided on airport websites. Data provision varies between different airports, but good figures are available for Gatwick, Stansted and Luton.1
III. Impact on health, education and house prices
IV. Associated points
- We believe the rise in noise complaint and complainant figures is driven in part by the fact that some airports (such as Luton and City) are tasked with managing noise themselves, even though this is a clear conflict of interest. Increased noise is usually associated with increased profit, which of course is the primary objective of any business. As such there is a strong force that is liable to undermine or prevent achievement of DfT's stated aspirations, and there has been no attempt to mitigate this.
- Rather than solving this issue, the DfT's new policy proposals suggest that this arrangement should be extended to other airports, like Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. As such, if this inappropriate governance arrangement is extended, there is a real danger that we will start to see an even more pronounced upswing in impacts and complaints.
- Because there is no regulation of aviation noise, airports make only limited attempts to monitor and reduce it. This means that in many cases there is an absence of data to support conclusions in either direction, and crucially evidence to support citizens' assertions that 'things have changed'. This limited monitoring is at odds with the DfT's stated priority of limiting and where possible reducing the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise.
- DfT are likely to argue that a lever is in place to drive down noise, namely noise action plans. We would urge you to consider whether these plans are fit-for-purpose and achieving their stated intentions. We do not believe that they are.
V. Proposals from campaigners
The following proposals have been made by the Aviation Communities Forum and Aviation Environment Federation, institutions that act as umbrella organisations for myriad smaller campaign groups. These proposals are intended to begin rectifying the situation outlined in this letter, and were put to the DfT as part of the recent consultation on new policy proposals. As affiliates of these organisations, we support the proposals, namely:
- The government should set out a series of ambitious and unambiguous targets for aircraft noise reduction. This must be based on a principle of genuine equitable balance between industry and community interests. Any growth in flight numbers should be conditional on the achievement of these targets. Previous policy objectives, and the one proposed in the new consultation, have clearly failed; a new direction is now needed.
- The government should ensure there is firm regulation of aviation noise by a body that has the duties and powers to mandate and if necessary enforce long-term sustained reductions in its quantum and impact. Historic regulatory arrangements are clearly inadequate in the current environment and the proposals in the consultation would do little to improve the position.
- The government should establish a general principle that where aviation noise cannot be brought below acceptable thresholds people will be fully compensated for its effects, in line with the widely accepted 'polluter pays' principle.
1 Gatwick: http://www.gatwickairport.com/business-community/aircraft-noise-airspace/noise-reports/fpt-reports-publications/; Stansted: http://www.stanstedairport.com/community/local-environmental-impacts/noise/our-noise-performance/; and Luton: http://www.london-luton.co.uk/corporate/community/noise/annual-monitoring-reports.
2 Implementation date of LAMP Phase 1A Module A (Stansted SID Switch), switch of departure routes from Detling to Clacton. Stansted also ran some short PBN trials earlier than this.
3 Some implementation in 2015; full implementation not til 2017 (so full effect probably not yet seen).
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August 11th 2017