9th March 2006

Government defeat on night flights welcomed

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has welcomed the defeat in the House of Lords yesterday (8 March) of Government proposals for powers to remove the cap on the number of night flights at Stansted and other major airports in the south east in favour of a noise quota system.

The move to end the limit on flights between 11.30pm and 6am and to rely solely on noise quotas had been put forward by the Government in the Civil Aviation Bill which is currently making its passage through Parliament. Stansted already suffers a massive 8,500 flights annually during these hours (based on figures to 31 March 2005) an average of 23 flights nightly with proposals in the pipeline to increase these by up to 40 percent.

The proposed abolition of overall limits on aircraft numbers, however, would have opened the door to a massive rise in night flights at Stansted by only applying limits to total overall noise levels from aircraft rather than to the actual number of planes as well as at present.

The result would have meant significantly more disturbance for those living under the flight path since the low background noise levels of the Essex, Herts and Suffolk countryside do not mask the regular interruption of planes using Stansted Airport. In rural areas such as Stansted, where ambient noise levels are extremely low at night, there is no such a thing as a “quiet” aircraft. Virtually all night flights disturb the peace and so it is important to retain limits on the number of night flights as well as the aggregate noise output.

Without a limit on aircraft movements, protection from noise would also have been denied for people who live very close to the airport who may not be beneath flightpaths but who are especially troubled by ground noise at night relating to vehicle movements associated with the airport. A night noise quota provides no limit whatsoever on ground noise.

However, during their debate on the Bill, peers in the House of Lords voted by 167 to 127 votes in favour of a Conservative-led cross-party amendment to keep the cap a majority of 40. They were also successful in securing a Tory and Liberal Democrat amendment to fine airlines whose planes are too noisy, by 141 to 128 votes.

Stop Stansted Expansion has consistently argued that a movements limit can be easily understood by most people and is far more transparent and open to validation than a noise quota limit. The current regime, where limits on both are applied, is the ‘least worst’ arrangement for at least partially mitigating the annoyance from night flights.

Commenting on the Lords’ victory, SSE Campaign Director Carol Barbone said: “We are delighted that the Government’s attempts to increase the burden on those who are already so badly affected by the night flights at Stansted Airport have been exposed. Given that its air transport policy specifically included promises to bear down on night noise, it was disingenuous for Ministers to pretend that the Bill would offer greater protection by encouraging the use of quieter aircraft through noise quotas only, when this clearly wouldn’t be the case for those affected by Stansted’s operations.”

The Civil Aviation Bill now passes back to the House of Commons for its final reading. Looking ahead to the likely outcome, Carol Barbone added: “While the Government’s majority there means that it could overturn the Lords’ decision, the arguments for retaining the overall limits on night flights numbers are compelling and could actually survive the Commons because of the level of concern amongst MPs of all parties and the impacts on so many of their constituents.”

Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits