Targets urged to cut Heathrow stacking

Targets to eliminate excessive aircraft stacking - where planes queue up to land - must be set if a third runway is built at Heathrow, a report by MPs said today.

The Government should also look at limiting noise levels and aircraft numbers over beauty spots, the report from the House of Commons Transport Committee said.

MPs were also concerned that the extension of the European Aviation Safety Agency's remit could mean a lowering of safety standards.

Entitled the Use of Airspace, the report said some stacking was inevitable but that excessive stacking such as frequently occurred at Heathrow in west London had "negative environmental impacts".

The committee said: "A third runway at Heathrow, if built, offers a real opportunity to add resilience into the air traffic management system and to help reduce excessive stacking.

"If a third runway is built at Heathrow, the Government should create a framework for setting targets to eliminate excessive stacking around the airport."

The report said that the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should "examine the case for adopting maximum limits on noise levels and numbers of aircraft permitted per hour over sensitive areas such as national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty".

MPs also called on the DfT to issue up-to-date environmental guidance to the CAA before the end of the year, with the guidance representing current Government thinking on carbon dioxide and other emissions in relation to transport decision-making.

The report said: "The Government and CAA must work to ensure that environmental assessments for airspace-change proposals use reliable evidence-based criteria."

The committee also asked for six-monthly reports on the European Aviation Safety Agency whose remit is now set to include aerodrome safety, air navigation services and air traffic management.

MPs said they supported the principles of the single European sky initiative to create a more rational organisation of European airspace.

The report concluded there was "much to commend" in the current management of UK airspace and that the committee had been impressed by the "technical competence and professionalism" of the CAA and of air traffic control company Nats.

MPs rejected suggestions that responsibility for decision-making about airspace be placed in a different organisation than the CAA.

However, the committee said the CAA should review the techniques it used to design controlled airspace around airports and improve the way it communicated with stakeholders.

The CAA should also encourage a choice of options wherever airspace changes were proposed.

The committee's chairman Louise Ellman MP said: "If a third runway at Heathrow Airport is built, then the Government should set targets to cut stacking.

"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 DfT should fund exploratory research on how to set useful limits."

Ralph Smyth, senior transport campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "With ever more people holidaying in England this summer, the proposal to limit flying over sensitive parts of our countryside such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty have not come a moment too soon."

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