Independent Aviation Noise Authority (Supplementary) [1]

Session date: 
June 18, 2014
Question By: 
John Biggs
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
Sir Howard Davies (Former Chair, Airports Commission) & Phil Graham (Head of Secretariat, Airports Commission)


John Biggs AM:  I should start by saying that although the Assembly is unanimous in taking the view that Heathrow presents all sorts of problems, we are not necessarily unanimous on the conclusions that flow from that.


I am very interested in this issue of noise.  There is a health warning here, which is that scientists can measure it but the individual experience of it seems to vary from person to person and from time of day to time of day as well, so we need to be very clear about that and how people find it offensive.


In your report, you say, “The Government should facilitate moves by industry to redesign airspace within the London area”.  Do you see that as a way of facilitating a reduction in the number of people affected by noise?


Answer for Independent Aviation Noise Authority (Supplementary) [1]

Answer for Independent Aviation Noise Authority (Supplementary) [1]

Answered By: 
Sir Howard Davies (Former Chair, Airports Commission) & Phil Graham (Head of Secretariat, Airports Commission)

Sir Howard Davies (Chair - Airports Commission):  It can be.  There are a number of propositions around about descent approaches and about take-off, which can be steeper and which can take some people out of the footprint, etc.


Also, more broadly, what we are interested in in this Future Airspace Strategy is the ways in which you can manage the arrivals process more efficiently.  At the moment, there is an incentive for people from the Far East and North America to get to London and get into the stack and then go around in circles and be called off from the stack.  That does not seem to us to be a great way of doing it.  It has adverse environmental consequences.  To have aircraft going around in circles is not a great thing.  It is more those issues, actually, on the airspace management than specifically those related to noise, although there are some implications related to types of take-off and types of landing.


John Biggs AM:  That is a very powerful idea, actually, but you could never fundamentally move from aeroplanes approaching Heathrow over central London for the majority of the time.  Is that correct?


Sir Howard Davies (Chair - Airports Commission):  The issue of westerly preference is one that we think should be looked at because it does date from a time when aircraft were rather different.  There are people who argue that the amount of westerly preference is no longer really necessary in a technical way.  Sometimes you do have to do that.  We are asking them to look at that and they are looking at the question of whether the current bias towards coming in from the east or towards the west is justified.  It may well be that some rebalancing of that could be achieved.


John Biggs AM:  At risk of getting rather technical, in terms of the human impact, one of the most vociferous complaints is about night flights or early-morning arrivals.  Clearly, if they were to arrive from the west rather than the east, unless there were hurricane conditions which prevented them safely from doing so, would that be an option in your mind?


Sir Howard Davies (Chair - Airports Commission):  That is only the same issue, in a way.  At the moment it is roughly 70:30 westerly: easterly.


John Biggs AM:  In terms of arrivals?


Sir Howard Davies (Chair - Airports Commission):  In terms of the percentage of time that it is the westerly preference.  It might be possible to alter that balance somewhat, but I do not think that that would be likely to mean you could always do your early morning arrivals from the west.  I may be getting slightly beyond my ability here, but I do not think that is true.


Phil Graham (Head of the Secretariat, Airports Commission):  That is absolutely right.  If the westerly preference were removed, it would alter the balance and potentially move further away from 70:30 and closer to 50:50.


John Biggs AM:  Or 30:70?


Phil Graham (Head of the Secretariat, Airports Commission):  The wind does blow more regularly from the west.


John Biggs AM:  Is that a big deal?  I thought Sir Howard was saying that ‑‑


Phil Graham (Head of the Secretariat, Airports Commission):  It depends how strong it blows.  It used to be that even if there was enough wind to flutter a handkerchief from the west you needed to fly in that direction.  Now planes can withstand a reasonable tailwind in take-off or headwind in landing or possibly the other way around.  If the wind gets above a certain level, you still have to switch the operation of the airport to deal with that.  That is reducing as technology as improves, however.


John Biggs AM:  Is there a scenario in which aeroplanes can both take off and land from the same direction at Heathrow Airport if the runways are sufficiently far apart or whatever?


Sir Howard Davies (Chair - Airports Commission):  A Heathrow hub with a double-length runway does envisage that you would have one plane starting to take off in the middle of the runway and the other one coming in from the other end of the runway at the same time


John Biggs AM:  Just moving on very swiftly, it is not planning permission, is it?  The planning of airports is a bit more technical than just planning permission, other than in the City of London, of course.  Could you envisage a situation where there was a stipulation within the planning control about the proportion of flights, their directions and so on?  There is an understandable and great cynicism about technical experts advising people.  Redefining ‘night-time’ in order to reduce the number of night flights is the one that is often used.


Sir Howard Davies (Chair - Airports Commission):  In principle, that could be done.  That is certainly an idea we will have a look at.  I think it could be done, yes.


John Biggs AM:  Thank you very much.