Commons Gate

The use of airspace (HC 163-vi)

Transport Committee 22 Apr 2009

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Evidence given by:
2.45 p.m. Department for Transport Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Mr Jonathan Moor, Director of Airports Strategy Mr John Parkinson, Head of Airports Policy Division Civil Aviation Authority Sir Roy McNulty, Chairman Mr Mark Swan, Director Airspace Policy

Q525 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Can I come to the aspect of the division between military and civil aviation? Is the split right? My understanding is the use by military aircraft of airspace has reduced considerably over the last decade. Is that correct?

Sir Roy McNulty: I will invite Mark Swan in a moment to comment on it, but I assume you are talking about the division between controlled and uncontrolled airspace. There have been lots of figures bandied about, both in front of this Committee more recently and elsewhere. It is quite confusing because it depends on what you are talking about.

Q526 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Tell us what we should be talking about.

Sir Roy McNulty: I can come up with several options. One of the problems when you talk about airspace is how far up are you going? As some people put it, do you go all the way up to God or are you quantifying something a little bit shorter than that? We have to bear in mind that above 19,500 ft all of the airspace is controlled, because that is where all the international flying takes place, and so on. If you come down below 19,500 ft, 40% of that is controlled airspace. If you add a lump of the airspace above 19,500 ft you can get to 60% controlled but, as I say, it depends on what you mean. Having said that, it is true that there is less military flying than there was, but I think a very important fact we have to remember is that the type of flying the military are doing is different. Once they brought in the Eurofighter, which has a completely different flight profile from anything we have ever seen before. To exercise that type of aircraft requires a lot more airspace than the previous less advanced aircraft did, so there has not been a pro rata reduction in the amount of airspace the military use just because they have fewer aircraft, but Mark knows a lot more about it than I do.

Q527 Chairman: One of the points which have been suggested to us is that because of your military background perhaps that is indicative of too much emphasis on the military than civilian aspects. Would you comment on that.

Mr Swan: I think I will have to leave others to judge on my performance over the next couple of years, Chairman, if I may suggest. Yes, I am an ex-Typhoon pilot, so I do have some experience in using the airspace. One of the points I would make is that the airspace is not denied. None of the airspace is denied to any user. Particularly the military can regularly fly in controlled airspace. However, their training requirements, their high energy movements in large formations of aircraft tend to mean that the airspace they utilise, predominantly over the sea and some of the lesser populated areas of northern Scotland for specific low flying training, does not mean to say they cannot have access to other parts of the sky when they need it. In terms of carving up the airspace, of course most of the military training, apart from designated danger areas, is free airspace to GA, to gliders, and it is shared. It is uncontrolled airspace, much of it flown in the principle of "see and avoid", so this idea of percentages implying that a certain amount of airspace, as Sir Roy has outlined, is completely closed to the military and that the military can only use another part of the world is comparing apples with pears to a degree and I think can confuse the debate on who gets to own what and who uses particular portions.

Q528 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): So can I take it there is no particular problem?

Sir Roy McNulty: We do not believe there is an issue, which is not to say that some users perpetually complain about the subject and they love a debate about whether it should be 40, 60, 55, 45 or something, but the CAA has never started from the point of view of, "Let's decide we will give 60 to one and 40 to the other." The 60/40 thing is an end result of a case by case allocation of airspace for particular needs and making sure that the system is kept safe.

Q529 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): If I can just go on from that slightly, my experience of military aircraft is in Cumbria and it is low flying. We do not see much of it now, but it is a tranquil area and I think there are comments here from some of the county councils. I am not just talking about military aircraft, I am talking about overall. What do you do to preserve the tranquillity of various parts of the countryside?

Sir Roy McNulty: The main thing the CAA does in relation to this is handling airspace changes when these are proposed. We handle airspace changes in accordance with a quite detailed set of guidance which we get from the Secretary of State, 20 pages worth, which covers all the different factors we need to take into account. One of those factors is tranquillity, but also another factor is limiting the noise nuisance to large volumes of population, but you cannot allow one of those to drive everything. We try to arrive at a balanced judgement taking those factors into account, together with the need to move traffic efficiently and the need to preserve safety above all else.

Q530 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): So you do not have any designated areas where you say we should not fly there?

Sir Roy McNulty: No, we endeavour, in line with the guidance we have, to avoid Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and we recognise the desirability of keeping tranquil areas tranquil where possible.

Q531 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The other option is that you give everybody a bit of the noise and spread it out?

Sir Roy McNulty: Absolutely, and thus annoy everybody! We do try to avoid that.


Q556 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Just on that point, we are not making any more airports, are we? The danger is that we have got existing airports and a lot of them are in the wrong place because they were there for the War, but you are not going to open any new airports and the more you lose, the less capacity you have unless you add extra strips? Is that not a fact? If more airports go out of business, then you are going to have more capacity problems?

Mr Moor: In terms of civil aviation, this is what we looked at in the Air Transport White Paper and back in 2002 we looked at over 400 different potential schemes for expansion, many of them small airports which had an aspiration to expand. Our decision at that stage was to allow the expansion of existing airports because we felt that was sustainable growth, rather than going to a small airport and changing that into a much larger airport. We believe the Air Transport White Paper is a sensible approach to the overall civil aviation need. We do recognise, though, that there is a growing demand for general aviation and business aviation. There is capacity around the country for that, but in order to deal with that you have to balance the differences between the noise and that growing demand.


Q566 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I represent an area which has a very small sub-regional airport, but it used to have a regular flight into Heathrow and it was important for the economy of that particular sub-region. If there is no priority given to anywhere, and bearing in mind the major London airports have a national priority, surely there should be somebody who decides that you can fly in from one of the smaller airports, if you want to put a scheduled flight on, that they have priority over the people going to the stag night in Prague because the economic benefits to that sub-region are very important.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I think that is absolutely fair and absolutely right, and indeed it is one of the issues we regularly consider, and indeed are considering at the moment. I have recently had representations from Durham Tees Valley, because BMI have withdrawn their flight, they want to use the slot at Heathrow for something else. They are saying that actually has an economic impact on their sub-region within the North East. We have had representations previously from Inverness and from other parliamentary colleagues from different parts of the country who say that the economic regulation should consider regional and sub-regional development as a higher priority than it does at the moment. That is a moving feast because that is a matter which will have to be considered and applied each and every time, and it is a matter which is under consideration by the Department at present.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

The full transcript may be read here.

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB