I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill deals with air traffic management and unmanned aircraft, which I am sure will be of great interest to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to all Members of the House as we look towards the future of aviation.
The UK aviation sector is a global leader, and for an island nation it plays a vital role in connecting us to the rest of the world. It is an engine of trade and investment. It allows business to connect and tourists to visit all parts of the UK, and lets our citizens explore the world, and visit family and friends. Aviation has long been at the heart of the United Kingdom’s economic success, which is why the Government’s most immediate priority is to combat covid-19 and get the aviation sector safely up and running once again. We must also look to, and prepare for, the future. Aviation will recover, and it will grow, and grow sustainably, over the years and decades ahead. As passenger demand recovers, it is more important than ever to consider ways to future-proof our air space, which is a key part of our national transport infrastructure.
The Bill will introduce measures to support the much needed modernisation of our airspace, update the air traffic licensing framework to bring it in line with best practice, provide alleviation from the requirement to use slots at co-ordinated airports 80% of the time for them to be retained in the following scheduling period, and provide greater enforcement powers to help the police to tackle the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft.
Airspace modernisation is a critical infrastructure programme of national importance. The benefits of redesigning these motorways in the sky are significant for all those who use and are affected by airspace. The UK’s airspace is some of the most complex in the world, yet there has been little change to its overall structure since the 1950s. Upgrading it is essential to open up airspace for all users, including general aviation flyers and new types of aircraft such as drones or, as they are properly called, unmanned aircraft.
The Bill will limit the aircraft noise experienced by local communities, and reduce traffic delays when demand returns. Without change, predictions show that by 2030 a third of flights could be unnecessarily delayed by an average of 30 minutes, which is 72 times higher than in 2015. Critically, the emissions savings that modernisation will deliver are a key component of the UK’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050.
Unquestionably, 2020 was the toughest ever year for commercial aviation, but the need for modernisation has not changed. It is a long-term programme to future-proof against long-term demand, growth and change. However, the route to modernisation will change. In view of the pandemic and its effects on the aviation industry, most airports have temporarily paused their work on airspace change. But there will come a time, in the not-too-distant future, I hope, when the airspace change programme will be revitalised. The provisions in part 1 of the Bill will be critical to the success of that programme when that time comes.
The UK’s airspace is highly interdependent, particularly over the south-east region. For airspace change to take place, airports or other persons involved in airspace change have to work together and take account of the needs of neighbouring airports as well as their own. If one airport pulls out, it could delay the whole modernisation programme. Should that situation occur, neither the Government nor the Civil Aviation Authority currently has the powers to guarantee that airspace change is taken forward. Given the complex and interdependent nature of the airspace change proposals required for modernisation, the powers in the Bill are necessary to avoid any sponsor holding up another airspace change proposal or, potentially, the whole programme.
The current challenges facing the aviation sector are extraordinary, so let me reassure Members that the powers in part 1 of the Bill are only intended to be used as a last resort if airspace changes are not taken forward voluntarily or at the requisite pace. The Government do not intend to use these powers where delays are due to factors outside a sponsor’s control—for example, as a result of covid-19. The Bill also contains procedural safeguards for the potential recipient of a direction to progress or co-operate in an airspace change proposal—an ACP—designed to ensure that any direction is proportionate and robustly justified.
I turn to part 2 of the Bill. It has been more than 20 years since the establishment of an economic regulatory regime for the provision of en route air traffic control services. During that time, the technological and economic landscape of air traffic services has changed dramatically. The provisions in part 2 will modernise the regulatory regime for the provision of en route air traffic services provided by NATS En Route plc—or NERL, as it called —and regulated by the CAA. That will ensure that the framework remains fit for purpose and continues to build on the UK’s excellent safety record.
The Bill will allow the CAA to take a more direct and independent approach. It will enable changes to licence conditions considered necessary to protect consumers and respond to changes in air traffic services over time. It also updates the enforcement and penalties regime to ensure that the CAA can effectively regulate NERL in the interests of users and consumers. That includes the introduction of proportionate sanctions, which brings the regulatory regime into line with other modern regulatory systems.
Part 2 of the Bill also includes provisions relating to airport slot alleviation specifically in response to the covid-19 pandemic. The alleviation of slots at capacity-constrained airports is governed by retained EU regulation 95/93. There are eight slot co-ordinated or level 3 airports in the UK: Birmingham, Bristol, Gatwick, Heathrow, London City, Luton, Manchester and Stansted. Regulation 95/93 requires airlines with allocated slots at level 3 airports to use those slots at least 80% of the time in the preceding scheduling period in order to retain their slot in the upcoming equivalent period. In ordinary circumstances, that 80:20 rule, or “use it or lose it” rule, encourages the efficient use of scarce airport capacity, while allowing airlines a degree of flexibility in their operations. However, owing to the unprecedented impact of covid-19, the European Commission waived the 80:20 rule for the summer 2020 season. That was subsequently extended to cover winter 2020-21. The UK supported the European Commission’s position. That alleviation has helped to protect future connectivity and airline finances and reduce the risk of ghost flights being run to retain slots, with all the consequent environmental impact and unnecessary expenditure that that would have.
However, it is with regret that the Government anticipate that the effects of covid-19 on the aviation industry will continue for some time to come. Passenger demand is not predicted to return to 2019 levels until at least 2023, and the retained powers of regulation 95/93 were expressly limited to 2 April 2021. Part 2 therefore provides the Secretary of State with a power, exercisable until 24 August 2024, to waive the 80:20 rule beyond 2 April 2021. It also includes a power to set alternative ratios to the 80:20 rule for a specified scheduling period or season, and allows the Secretary of State to apply conditions to an alleviation of the 80:20 rule, such as by setting a deadline for the return of slots not intended for operation. As we expect disruption to air travel to continue for several years, it is imperative that the UK has the necessary powers at its disposal to provide alleviation beyond the summer 2021 season should the evidence suggest that it is warranted.
I now turn to part 3. Hon. Members will have seen the positive uses of unmanned aircraft, often referred to as drones, during the covid-19 pandemic, such as trialling the flying of medical supplies to the Isle of Mull and the Isle of Wight. The Government are committed to harnessing the positive impacts of unmanned aircraft and supporting this growing industry, but it must be done in a way that protects the safety and security of people, other aircraft, and sensitive sites. The careless, inconsiderate and malicious use of drones and other unmanned aircraft continues to pose a safety risk to others.
The provisions in part 3 therefore provide new and additional police powers to tackle the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft. The police will be able to issue a fixed penalty notice for less serious offending—for example, where a person had flown too close to uninvolved people but not caused, or intended to cause, any harm. They will also be given the necessary powers to require an unmanned aircraft to be grounded, to use stop and search, and to enter and search premises under warrant for certain offences relating to unmanned aircraft.
In addition, we are providing for the use of counter-unmanned aircraft technology that interferes with property or wireless telegraphy for the purposes of detecting and preventing certain offences involving unmanned aircraft. We are adding the civil nuclear constabulary and senior management for prisons to the list of those who can authorise the use of this technology, allowing them better to protect sites such as nuclear sites and prisons. The provisions in part 3 have been developed with the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs Council on behalf of UK police forces. They will address operational gaps in police powers and ensure that offenders who use unmanned aircraft for unlawful purposes are dealt with more effectively and appropriately in order to maintain public safety and security.
In summary, this Bill will future-proof the aviation sector by creating simpler and more efficient routes, reduce congestion while assisting aviation to meet its climate change targets, and ensure the safe use of our skies. At a time when we are so often concerned with the cares of the present, this is an opportunity to shape the future of aviation. I warmly welcome the House’s attention to the Bill.
Before I call Mr Kane, let me say that some very sad news has broken that Captain Sir Tom Moore has sadly died. On behalf of the House of Commons, can I pass on our deepest condolences to his family? He brought joy to the nation. He was an inspiration to everybody in this country, and his achievement was properly recognised by a knighthood, which was movingly presented by Her Majesty the Queen in person at a special ceremony. I know that the entire nation will mourn his passing.
Mr Deputy Speaker, that is very sad news indeed. Some people are born great, some people achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. I think Sir Tom was probably all three of those things; I am sure the Minister will concur when he comes back to the Dispatch Box a little later. He was an inspiration to the whole nation at a time of crisis, and a real candle in the gloom for the British people. I wholeheartedly concur with your comments, Mr Deputy Speaker.
It is great that you are chairing this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I know personally of your aviation expertise. You have been a great support to me, as the constituency MP for Manchester airport over the years, as I chaired the friends of Manchester airport group. I have been genuinely grateful for all your help throughout that time.
Turning to the matter at hand, I must first thank Members of the other place for their tireless and diligent work in getting this important Bill through to this stage. It was certainly a long process there, but we can all largely agree that it was well worth it in the end. As the Minister has said, the Bill will grant the Government powers to modernise UK airspace, update the licensing of air traffic control and give police new powers over the misuse of drones. Those three areas have all been in need of updating in recent years, so I am pleased to support the Bill receiving its Second Reading today and look forward to it completing its remaining stages.
I share the Minister’s ambition for airspace modernisation. The country has essentially been managing its airspace with analogue technology from the previous century, with piecemeal updates as demand ballooned over the past few decades—an analogue system in a digital age.
I commend the Civil Aviation Authority, which is nearing its 50th anniversary, for everything it has done and continues to do to maintain exemplary safety standards in the sector, such that, as the now-cliched line goes, the riskiest part of flying has become going to and from the airport. Our creaking airspace management has many inefficiencies, most importantly constraints on the volume of flights and needless burning of extra fuel as jets circle round and round before landing. Clearly, few of us need convincing that modernising the airspace should be a priority, and the Bill provides the Department for Transport with powers to ensure that that happens. I fully support that principle.
The second part of the Bill, which involves the regulation of air traffic control services, is also welcome, though the circumstances that brought it about are not: two recent air traffic system failures, a voice communication system failure in December 2013 and a computer system failure in December 2014. I was thankful that there were no accidents or safety concerns over the handling of the incidents themselves.
The Minister and I have discussed airport slots at length, including during consideration of a recent statutory instrument on the temporary extension of a waiver on slot regulations owing to the covid-19 pandemic. I am content that the Bill, through clause 12, will continue to provide the Government with the tools to tackle airport slot allocations issues arising from the pandemic.
The third part of the Bill—providing further police powers over the use of unmanned aircraft—is long overdue. As technology has moved on, drones have become more common, and it was only a matter of time before an incident such as that at Gatwick airport in 2018 disrupted air traffic. Such incidents and others, at prisons and elsewhere, will only increase if the use of drones is not more adequately policed. I therefore welcome the additional police powers in the Bill.
We support the principles in the Bill, but there are a few areas of concern, which I hope to work on with the Minister and Members in Committee. Principally, I have concerns about the scope of the powers that will be conferred on the Secretary of State for Transport by part 1; the Minister referred to that in his speech. If a specific definition of the Government’s enforcement powers is not set down, this Department, or a future Department, might be able to use them for other airspace purposes. That issue was raised by the Airport Operators Association and I ask the Minister to address it. Why is the scope of the power so broad?
The second issue, bluntly, is where the money will come from for this airspace change programme. I understand that this is not a money Bill and things might have changed recently, but ACOG—the Airspace Change Organising Group, which is managing this ambitious modernisation programme—has not received full funding promised by the Government to proceed with its work. The Minister might care to address that point.
It is necessary to acknowledge that capital spending is at a record low in an aviation sector that has been so thoroughly gutted by the covid-19 pandemic. It may be a step too far to require airports to stump up the cash for this at the current time. It seems to me that the Government could start the process. Has the Minister considered funding phase 1 of the programme? Is he looking at mechanisms to finance this vital airspace change programme?
Finally for today, I would like to raise a query about the Bill providing the police with greater powers to enforce unmanned aircraft safety. My concerns are that this is not matched with the appropriate resource to effectively use these new powers. While this is out of the scope of the Bill, I ask the Minister what further steps he and his Department will take to ensure that the correct investment and resource are made available by Government. I look forward to working with the Minister and Members of the House to bring this important and timely Bill through to the next stages.
I am very pleased to be able to speak on this Bill, because London Luton airport employs a great number of my constituents. The town of Leighton Buzzard and the villages of Heath and Reach, Billington, Stanbridge, Tilsworth, Eaton Bray and, in particular, Whipsnade, Studham and Kensworth are all overflown by planes coming in to land at London Luton airport. Indeed, I see them from my garden. I was delighted to learn on Friday that London Luton airport is able to claim up to £8 million from the airport and ground operations support scheme. That is much needed and very good news for our area.
I initiated the Westminster Hall debate on the work of the Jet Zero Council on 14 October last year. It was during my research for that debate that I realised the contribution of airspace modernisation to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. I met the Airspace Change Organising Group, which first alerted me to the fact that flight paths are now part of our critical national infrastructure and are, as the Minister said, highways in the sky. However, I would be grateful if he can confirm that the ACOG will get the money it needs to finish the job. I think the matter may be with our friends at the Treasury, and if he wants some assistance with that, I am sure that we would all be delighted to give him a hand.
If we get airspace change right, there are huge benefits to be realised. As the Minister said, aircraft frequently fly further than necessary on routes that follow sub-optimal climb and descent profiles, burning more fuel and creating additional greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental benefits of getting this right are enormous. Aircraft will be able to fly more direct routes, with quicker climbs to energy-efficient cruising altitudes and later descents to help to reduce emissions as well as provide opportunities to reduce the noise footprint on the ground. That will be hugely welcomed by many of my constituents, as indeed will the work of Dame Ann Dowling’s silent aircraft initiative in Cambridge.
Upgrading our airspace is a key part of building back better and contributing to a cleaner recovery for the UK economy. Current forecasts show that modernising airspace in the UK offers the potential to reduce future aviation emissions by up to 20%—a fifth—by 2050, which would be one of the most substantive contributions. It is also crucial for supporting the UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic. It will ensure that our future air transport networks deliver the necessary resilience to shocks and the efficiency to underpin aviation’s vital role in driving the UK’s global connectivity and economic recovery.
For the millions of passengers who will return to the skies in the future, upgrading UK airspace will help to prevent potential delays, reduce congestion and make travel easier and more efficient for us all. As the Minister said—and it bears repetition—failure to take action would mean that one in three flights arriving or leaving an airport was likely to be delayed by an average of half an hour by 2030. That would be 72 times worse than it was in 2015 and would be very damaging for passengers, businesses and the environment.
The airspace change programme will also strengthen the sustainability, resilience and competitiveness of regional air travel, which serves towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom. Regional air travel is a very important enabler for a balanced economic recovery, empowering local tourism, business, and international trade. I want us to get to jet zero as soon as possible, which is why the work of the new Whittle laboratory in Cambridge and companies such as Zero Avia, which is based in Bedfordshire and completed the world’s first hydrogen passenger flight last September, are so important. Sustainable aviation fuels obviously play a key role, as well.
The airspace change programme will also enable the United Kingdom to integrate seamlessly into the global system, and it is essential to accommodate unmanned aircraft systems and electric urban mobility aircraft as well. I want to ask the Minister about the UK’s plans for satellite air traffic control, because I understand from Dr Adam Camilletti of the Whittle laboratory that aircraft can now be tracked anywhere in the world by orbiting satellites, which until recently was only possible when they were close to a land-based air traffic control. Specifically, this means that aircraft can be actively rerouted, allowing them to use the jet stream more optimally and avoid areas where aircraft-induced clouds are most harmful. The separation between aircraft over the oceans can also be reduced, which would allow planes to use the jet stream more efficiently. What is really important is that these changes could significantly reduce the climate effects of aviation in the relatively short term.
The relevance of these new possibilities is that, as the Government now own OneWeb, that system could be used as a global aircraft tracking constellation. This would allow the United Kingdom to show leadership in tackling climate change while capitalising on our investment in OneWeb. I am aware that the UK national air traffic systems are already pioneering a similar approach with a Canadian company, Aireon. If the UK has first-mover advantage with this satellite technology, we could create a lot of jobs, which has never been more necessary than as we emerge from this pandemic. I would be very grateful if the Minister could address this issue in his closing remarks.
On behalf of the SNP, I very much echo the comments about Captain Sir Tom Moore. He led an extraordinary life with an absolutely wonderful finale, and his work over this past year will never be forgotten. My condolences to his family and friends.
I welcome the fact that the legislation to put airspace change and modernisation on a statutory footing is finally before us, and I agree with any extension of the 80/20 slots rule as well. I would prefer it, however, if other factors such as employment conditions were also used as criteria when allocating slots. I also welcome the increase in powers for the police and prison officers to tackle drone flights. While drone supply flights into prisons is not currently a big problem in Scotland, it is growing, with more than half of Scottish prisons recording incidents involving drones, as well as evidence from the recovery of drug packages that other flights are going undetected.
The carnage caused by drug addiction in wider society is magnified still further in prison. Drone technology has allowed those who profit from this misery to evade security measures in our prisons, so giving the police and prison authorities the power to intervene and stop the supply at its source is a welcome development that will receive approval from the Scottish Parliament after Royal Assent. I also hope there will be improved investment for police forces and the Prison Service in England and Wales, to allow them to use these powers properly and proportionately, and allowing Scotland the Barnett consequentials to make the same investment.
The flipside of the harmful use of drones is their positive use in logistics and distribution if properly managed and regulated, and I hope that the Bill will do just that. AGS Airports, which owns and manages Glasgow airport in my constituency, along with Aberdeen and Southampton airports, is leading a consortium that will develop and trial what will be the UK’s first national distribution network to use drones to transport essential medicines, blood, organs and other medical supplies throughout Scotland. The consortium of 14 organisations, including the University of Strathclyde, NATS and Connected Places Catapult, has secured £1.5 million from the industrial strategy future flight challenge fund to demonstrate how autonomous drone technology can enhance access to essential medical supplies, particularly in rural parts of Scotland.
The project started in December last year and will involve live drone flight trials in addition to developing the ground infrastructure needed to recharge the drones and the systems to control them. A key aspect of the project, which dovetails rather well with other parts of the Bill, will be designing pathways to ensure that drones can safely share airspace with civil aviation. Derek Provan, the chief executive of AGS, has said:
“This project has the potential to completely revolutionise the way in which healthcare services are delivered in Scotland.”
Karen Bell, the head of research and development for NHS Ayrshire and Arran, has said:
“NHS Ayrshire & Arran are excited to be leading on the delivery of this project on behalf of the West of Scotland Innovation Hub. This is an opportunity to work with aviation colleagues to explore the innovative use of drone technology to address some of the potential challenges facing daily delivery of NHS services, not only within NHS Ayrshire & Arran but across the West of Scotland.”
We often hear of drones in a negative light, be that in their use in warfare, in closing airports as we saw at Gatwick, or in reported near misses with aircraft, but it is clear that they can provide many positives within a fairly and well-regulated framework.
The changes to airspace that the Bill paves the way for are absolutely vital, as previous speakers and the Minister have outlined. Given the exponential growth in aviation over the decades, it will come as a surprise to many that the management of our skies dates back to a plan conceived and implemented in the 1950s, before the age of the super jumbo, when British European Airways and BOAC ruled the skies over the UK. There can be no argument but that the airspace management framework currently in place requires urgent review and a new policy and plan that will hopefully last for the long run.
Of course, many of the necessary technical improvements have been put in place or are in the pipeline, including the ITEC system at NATS in Prestwick. ITEC stands for interoperability through European collaboration, and it forms the basis of the two equal parts of the next generation of traffic management: software technology, including flight data processing; and the controller working position. This technology will strengthen safety and increase efficiency, and therefore improve the environmental impact of flights through more detailed planning of all flights’ trajectories. It will also enhance interoperability between European control centres, allowing us to share those detailed trajectories to optimise aircraft flights across borders.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that we have a modern and efficient airspace fit for the 21st century, but I am concerned about the gap that has been left in the plans for airspace management. Giving the Civil Aviation Authority and the Department for Transport legal authority and powers is one thing—I take the Minister at his word on hoping not to use them—but that will mean nothing if there are no actual plans to implement. That is the danger caused by the pandemic that is faced by the Airspace Change Organising Group. The financial devastation unleashed on the industry has meant a funding shortfall of around £8 million from what was needed for the group to continue and complete its work. That work has been ongoing for three years now. Given the sums sloshing about the Treasury in recent months, £8 million is a comparative drop in the ocean, and the economic boost and increase in efficiency that the airspace modernisation programme will bring is far in excess of that. It would be ludicrous if the last three years’ work by the group had to be binned for lack of that bridging cash to allow the group to finish its work and ensure that our airspace was fit for the 21st century.
Another strong point that has been alluded to is that, like the rest of our transport infrastructure, aviation needs investment and renewal for the long term. Given the rebuilding of our economic future that is needed as we come out of the pandemic, strategic support is crucial to a sustainable future for aviation and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it supports.
Airports and the wider industry want to see a more efficient use of airspace, not simply to funnel more flights in, but to minimise the impact of noise and pollution on local communities and to ensure the best environment so that direct links from regional airports to Europe and beyond can be viable, reducing unnecessary transit at overloaded hub airports such as Heathrow. Penny-pinching by the Treasury simply will not cut it, and I hope this will not happen. I urge the Minister to lobby his colleagues to come up with the cash to allow this crucial work to be done properly and come to a proper conclusion. While he is doing so, he could look at the precipice that the industry is staring over, without any real prospect of recovery even beginning until late summer or more likely the autumn. The sector needs proper support, and it needed it yesterday.
I take this opportunity again to urge the Secretary of State to ensure that the Airspace Change Organising Group is given a seat at the Jet Zero table. One key outcome of the airspace modernisation strategy will be a reduction in carbon emissions through increased efficiency in the skies. It is also the cheapest and easiest win with regard to carbon reduction. It seems an oversight, therefore, to leave the group out of top-tier discussions about how aviation can contribute to a low and zero-carbon future, particularly as we approach the COP26 summit in Glasgow. I hope that is on the Department’s radar and a clear mistake can be remedied as soon as possible.
In concluding, the Scottish Parliament passed a legislative consent motion on a previous incarnation of the Bill, and I hope that, pending discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments on police and Prison Service powers, the Scottish Parliament will again give consent for the measures in the Bill.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), and I welcome his support for this Bill. I start by congratulating the Minister on his appointment to this important role, on his contribution this afternoon and on explaining so clearly the objectives of this necessary Bill.
Like many in the House, I welcome the objectives of the Bill to update the legislative framework for the control of civilian UK airspace. Through the modernisation of airspace, we can reduce carbon emissions from aviation, reduce the impact of flightpaths and tackle the misuse of unmanned aircraft, such as drones. It is particularly fitting that after some years of delay, largely through the intervention of the general election in 2019, this Bill is being brought to the House on the very day that Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta publishes his seminal review on the economics of biodiversity.
Aviation plays a vital part in our economy, but it is crucial that we find a way to reduce its environmental impact. While that is not the primary purpose of the Bill, it is a necessary and fundamental ancillary benefit. Inefficient flightpaths set some decades ago will lead to longer travel times for passengers and freight traffic and therefore greater carbon dioxide emissions from flights. Airspace modernisation, if robust, can play a part in helping the UK meet our net zero obligations by 2050.
I want to use my brief contribution today to highlight the potential impact of flightpaths over those parts of our landmass that have a special place in nature and are designated as areas of special significance, including the national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest. They are areas that we as a nation have designated as being of sufficient importance to warrant additional protection. It seems to me that when the impact of noise pollution is well known, we should ensure that such areas continue to be protected as much as possible through any changes to flightpaths.
I place on record my thanks to my noble Friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge for tabling an amendment to this Bill that would have precluded aircraft from flying below 7,000 feet over areas of outstanding natural beauty, except for the purposes of safety or landing and take-off from airports and airfields. Seven thousand feet is the point at which noise is considered by the Civil Aviation Authority to be a pertinent consideration when designing flightpaths.
While Lord Randall did not press the amendment to a Division, he did refer in the debate on 22 January in the other place to some written questions I had asked of the then Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), and I will briefly comment on her responses. I am aware that existing air navigation guidance suggests that
“where practicable, it is desirable that airspace routes below 7,000 feet should seek to avoid flying over Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and National Parks.”
That is welcome, so far as it goes, but it frankly does not go very far. Many people would like to see the limit raised to a higher threshold. Even at the existing height restriction, there appears to be almost nothing in the way of sanction should the advice be ignored. I recognise that it will not be possible for flights to avoid all AONBs and national parks—Gatwick is surrounded by them, for example—but I would like further reassurance from the Minister about the redress or sanctions available should civilian aircraft fly lower than they should.
There may be a tool at hand to help him. I warmly welcome the establishment in 2019 of the Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise, under the leadership of head commissioner Rob Light, to provide some transparent and independent advice in the aircraft noise debate. While it is clearly early days, ICCAN’s ambitions are welcome.
In the foreword to his first corporate strategy, Mr Light said:
“Welcome action is being taken by UK Government, the aviation industry and others to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions. I believe that aviation noise must also be considered by the industry and Government as a major issue, alongside climate change.”
I agree with him. Given that we are proposing changing flight paths, it is prudent for us to have robust information about how noise will impact the public and the natural world that we are trying to protect on the ground. While not interfering with its independence, I urge the Minister to ensure that ICCAN’s remit includes engaging not only with communities adjacent to airports, airfields and their flight paths, but those responsible for managing our designated landscapes, national parks and AONBs, and wider areas likely to be impacted adversely by noise.
I have been contacted by a number of constituents over the past couple of years complaining of increased civilian air traffic. They live within the Shropshire Hills AONB, which covers some 300 square miles—half of my constituency of Ludlow. They have seen, and in some cases recorded, an increase in flight numbers, particularly during the summer of 2019, which was prior to the pandemic—flight numbers will clearly have declined during the pandemic. They found it very difficult to secure information on the cause of the increase, details of aircraft movements at different heights or what could be done about it. Given that challenge, with exemptions to freedom of information requests for several civil aviation bodies, I urge the Minister to consider whether the application of FOI exemptions in this area remains appropriate, for the sake of greater public transparency.
I welcome the measures concerning unmanned aircraft and drones in part 3 of the Bill. It is clear that this nascent but rapidly growing industry has a strong future with huge applications, from which we will all derive significant benefit. I am particularly interested to see how, for example, drones are already being used to monitor environmental change and the impact of pollution.
However, we have already seen the ability of drones to disrupt people’s lives, including the notable incident at Gatwick airport in 2018, when more than 1,000 flights were impacted by a drone siting close to the runway, so we must consider carefully how we can maintain public safety from malicious actors using drones in ways that are dangerous to public health or safety. I welcome the measures in the Bill to do that, but I urge the Minister to ensure that he has sufficient flexibility through the Bill and its regulations to keep up to date with emerging technology, to ensure small unmanned aircraft or drones can be identified in flight and safely grounded, if necessary, by police, prison or other relevant security services. I look forward to supporting the Bill this evening.
Like you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to express my sadness at the loss of Captain Tom Moore and send my condolences to his family.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), who has campaigned so steadily on these issues to protect our environment.
Let me be clear. I welcome the aim of the Bill, which, as it states in the briefing, is:
“to deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys.”
Whether the Bill’s further aim of delivering more capacity is compatible with “quieter and cleaner journeys” has yet to be seen and yet to be proved. Assessing the past performance and the current practice of the aviation industry leads us to be extremely sceptical that the continued expansion of capacity will enable the aviation sector to be cleaner and quieter. As we hopefully bring the covid pandemic under control in the coming period, there is obviously an urgent need now to address the next imminent crisis, which is the existential threat of climate change. If the aviation industry is to play its part in tackling climate change, the Government must be equipped with the powers to drive through the necessary changes to aviation practices.
The Bill does take a first step in seeking those powers and I welcome it in that respect. The problem is that it is yet another piecemeal measure without the context of an overarching strategy for aviation to secure an economically and environmentally viable future for the industry. The Government promised they would publish, in 2020, an aviation White Paper, “Aviation 2050”, to spell out their views and plans for the future of aviation. I appreciate and understand why the impact of the covid crisis has delayed the White Paper—I am happy to cut the Government some slack on that one. However, we have also been repeatedly promised, since last March, that the Government would at least come forward with an interim sector strategy that would see the industry through the pandemic and lay the foundations for the future. It is disappointing that that has not been forthcoming. Instead, there has just been a steady drip of unco-ordinated announcements of short-term support schemes.
Apart from this tardy and piecemeal sticking plaster approach, one of the worst elements of the situation is that the Government’s financial support to the aviation companies has been without any conditions about the behaviour of those companies. That has allowed unprincipled companies like Heathrow Airport Ltd in effect to use taxpayers’ money to treat its staff—many of my constituents—like serfs. They have seized on the crisis to impose fire and rehire tactics, cut wages, undermine working conditions and seek to break the unions.
Instead of this Bill, the Government should bring forward a comprehensive strategy that provides the support and direction to the industry to see it through the tough period it faces over the next 12 months, but also a strategy for the long term: setting out the clear objective of creating an environmentally sustainable aviation sector; setting out the parameters in which the industry will have to operate to achieve that; establishing the decision-making, implementation and regulatory structures that will successfully drive the strategy through; and, of course, identifying the policies and the financial support that will be available to secure what we are arguing for, which is a just transition.
The Bill is a fish out of water. It is impossible to discern how it fits into any clear strategy for a viable future for aviation. It leads to even more confusion over who does what, who leads on what and who decides on what. It fails to inspire confidence that it has taken any account of the most recent research and understanding of the social, health and environmental impacts of expanding aviation, especially the impacts of noise and air pollution. Worryingly, as a constituency MP with an airport in my constituency, it appears to sideline even further the role of local authorities and local communities in decision making.
The Bill will go through its Second Reading tonight, but it just provides yet more evidence that the Government’s whole approach to the aviation industry is increasingly turning into a dog’s breakfast. The people who suffer from this self-evident fiasco, which is ongoing, are, regrettably, my constituents and others. Although the Bill will go through, I hope the Government now recognise their responsibility and their promises to bring forward an aviation strategy paper, so we can properly discuss the long-term future of the sector.
I express my condolences to Sir Tom Moore’s friends and family. He has been special in many ways, and a stellar example of how doing such an apparently small thing has influences that we could not possibly imagine.
This is Sedgefield calling Westminster control, and I apologise for not using my pilot’s headset, as you would prefer, Mr Deputy Speaker. As a private pilot, I guess I should declare an interest. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all who work in providing pilots with a safe space in which to operate. Their work is critical not only for pilots, but obviously for their passengers and those on the ground. I have to say that the chances of my flying in most of the airspace we are discussing is somewhere between nil and negligible, but I do retain hope.
I will consider the three parts of this Bill. On part 1, it makes eminent sense to me that there should be a single authority to force co-operation should the parties responsible for the management of airspace be unable to agree. The Secretary of State’s delegation to the CAA is an appropriate reference. Over the years, the geographical influence of the bigger airport corridors has evolved so that potential changes in one corridor are increasingly likely to have impacts on another. I know that when flying in the south-east, even as a recreational pilot, the airspace is increasingly restricted. The Bill gives the Transport Secretary new powers to ensure that airports modernise their airspace, with the power to fine those that do not implement changes quickly enough. I strongly believe that an absolute power to require the parties to progress collaboratively is wholly appropriate should it be required, but only when it is required.
Moving on to part 2, it is clear that anyone who observes traffic at the major airports is well aware of the congestion that can arise and the obvious desire to reduce the need to stack aircraft in a holding pattern awaiting landing, which is so obviously a waste of fuel and an environmentally unfriendly process. By modernising our airspace, we can reduce the time it takes for a plane to land, meaning we cut pollution, reduce noise nuisance for the communities below and reduce delays for passengers. With appropriate tools and systems, the integration of different classes of aviation also becomes much more achievable, which should promote efficiency for all classes without introducing safety concerns. There are many challenges for the air travel business in addressing its carbon footprint and making it possible for flights to have as little wasted time in the air as possible, and this is clearly a step in the right direction.
It is necessary to update the regulatory regime for the provision of en route air traffic control services. The licensing framework under the Transport Act 2000 needs to be modernised to ensure that it remains fit for purpose, and that it continues to build on the UK’s excellent safety record and to be resilient. For those living under the flight paths, the opportunity to have a system in use that provides occasional relief by redirecting flights for specific time periods will, I am sure, be welcome. In addition, there are many busy airports around the world that happily integrate general aviation and commercial flights, and these opportunities should be more achievable under more advanced systems as and when they are introduced.
My main concern today, however, is about the powers on allowing the waiver of the rule that airlines must use their allocated airport slots at least 80% of the time to avoid losing the slots in the next season. While I have no desire to encourage airlines to fly inefficient routes to retain their lucrative allocated landing slots, I must express concern that any latitude offered is restricted in its use and closely monitored.
I support giving a helping hand to airlines during the coronavirus pandemic, meaning they are not forced to fly empty planes, but the ownership of these slots has been abused in the past to frustrate opportunities for regional airports, such as Teesside in my Sedgefield constituency. While I accept that we are in peculiar times, we must still look to deliver appropriate slots for UK regional airports. I would strongly encourage that, in taking the power of the waiver, the Secretary of State recognises that in using it he needs to be cognisant of unintended consequences. It is imperative that, if he chooses to use the power of waiver, he still enables a review of slots, does not allow a full roll-over and retains a mechanism to reallocate some of those, particularly to support regional airports.
In order to level up and economically strengthen the UK’s regions, it is vital that areas such as the Tees Valley are able to offer worldwide connectivity. That can only realistically be achieved by ensuring that our airport is connected to Heathrow. We have been very pleased to restore flights from Teesside to Heathrow this year. That route closed some 11 years ago, when British Midland took the long-standing Teesside slots to use on other routes. Today, the service is provided by Eastern Airways, although the airport is in the process of finalising arrangements with the UK’s largest regional airline, Loganair, for it to take over operation of the route from March 2021, bringing expertise and worldwide connections that will help the route to grow and prosper. Loganair already holds the slots required for the launch in March but is currently on the waiting list for the Heathrow slots in summer 2021 and beyond. An inappropriate or excessive waiver of the “use it or lose it” provisions would risk allowing legacy airlines to sit on slots without using them, wasting air carriage capacity at a time when we must make best use of all the resources of economic strength at our disposal.
It is critical that the UK’s airports are fully utilised and that our regions are well connected. If the wrong decision is made and the regulation is totally waived, it could be hugely damaging to entrepreneurial regional airports. The efforts of the Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, to deliver regional investment and the potential relocation of the Treasury to the Tees Valley would be enhanced by a growing opportunity for links to Heathrow, and I hope that those are not frustrated.
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss with the Minister and his officials how reforms could be conducted to help ensure that Teesside International airport has the opportunity to secure long-term connections to Heathrow for services to and from UK domestic points. I hope that the laudable efforts to support the airline industry, reduce waste and reduce the carbon footprint do not simultaneously damage the regions of the UK. Finally, having seen the disruption around Gatwick and understanding the risks of drones around prisons, I am pleased to support the measures in part 3 of the Bill. I will not drone on any further, Mr Deputy Speaker.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell). It is with sadness that we hear of the passing of Sir Tom, and I pass on my condolences to the family at this time.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate on the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill. At the outset, I would like to thank the Minister for the opportunity to be involved in two briefing sessions on this yesterday, which were extremely informative.
Since the 1950s, airspace changes have been made in an ad hoc and piecemeal fashion, with adjustments being made in response to the growth of traffic levels. Of course, that was pre covid-19, and this is seen as a fairly good time to make changes, when there is a reduction in the number of flights. That has resulted in various inefficiencies that have put constraints on the number of flights that our airspace can accommodate. Technical advances have made it possible to increase capacity, but unfortunately, they have not necessarily made their way through to the regulatory change that the Bill will enable.
In the past, aircraft have ended up circling over airports—stacking. Many of us have sat in planes that are circling, predominantly over the south-east of England, which is probably one of the most congested airspaces in the UK. That adds to the problems of pollution and noise pollution for local residents. This Bill is an opportunity to deal with some of those issues. I represent an area where there is some manufacturing relating to the airline industry. It is important that we encourage innovation and the delivery of improvements in that area. That has been going on, and it can be seen in the form of quieter and more efficient aircraft, which will benefit the environment and those areas that are affected.
I believe that this Bill will deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys. It will also increase capacity and reduce the need for stacking over airports. I listened to some of the comments made earlier with great interest, especially those in relation to the opportunities that may exist for using satellite technology to direct planes. We should make better use of that. Such technology will help to ensure that planes are not burning fuel and that they are using the best routes. Because of technology, the separation that was added in a bygone age will not be necessary, and we should be progressing and moving on with that.
Included in the Bill are provisions to consult communities when airspace changes are being introduced. I welcome that and think that that is something that needs to be addressed. The Minister made reference to what is called “ghost flights”, which is where people fly planes just for the sake of holding a slot. The flexibility that will be introduced in relation to this, at least until August 2024, is to ensure that we are not purposefully wasting fuel, causing additional costs to airlines. As a passenger, I know how important it is to ensure that passengers get the benefit of reduced flight costs if that is possible, but that is one of the add-ons that might take a while to work its way through. I appreciate that any advances in the reduction of running costs and such like will be of benefit to all.
It was with interest that I read in the briefing notes that if we continued on the current trajectory, we would end up—I cannot remember the figure exactly—with a 72 times increase in the number of flights with a delay of more than half an hour by 2030. If that were to happen, it would be a major problem. If we can alleviate that, it would be of great help to everyone.
The second part of the Bill deals with air traffic and the licence modifications. This is an area that brings in the CAA and NATS and those involved in the operating of those modifications. Investment in new and improved radar needs to be put in place. I am working from memory here, but there is a 10-year licence, with an agreement to extend it to 15 years. In doing so, that will provide an opportunity for greater investment, because the payback time is longer. Therefore, there is an opportunity for those who want to invest. We need to encourage the introduction of the latest technology in our aviation industry. I am not saying that our industry is not safe; we have some of the safest airports in the world, and it is important that we maintain that. Bringing forward a Bill such as this will help us to stay at the top of the tree in this area. Those are all positive things.
Let me move on now to the third part of the Bill. Mention has been made of the 2018 debacle at Gatwick Airport and the difficulty that it caused. I and two of my staff were impacted by what happened on that day—that very eventful day. Drones are a wonderful invention and can be very positive, but legislation needs to be put in place to deal with those who want to misuse them. The police require additional powers to enforce that legislation. The idea of no-fly zones for drones also needs to be considered and the Bill goes towards giving us some assurance in this area.
Another issue that needs to be looked at—this was mentioned yesterday in the briefing session—is those who use laser pens. This causes major problems. We have to focus on what is operating in aerospace and the effect on commercial airlines flying over densely populated areas. We need to do everything in our power not only in respect of issuing fines but to give the police and those who are responsible the teeth to be able to go after those who abuse such equipment and create problems. Some people do it wilfully. Mention has been made of being able to identify drones by giving them a specific ID relating to the people who buy them and ensuring that those people are licensed and have adequate competency to use such vehicles. We do not pursue strongly enough those who cause problems and the penalties should definitely reflect how serious the effects could be and how many people’s lives could be affected by such abuse.
The Bill covers those who abuse drones by using them to smuggle things into prisons and all sorts of things. We have to have measures in place and that needs to be covered in the Bill. There is a common-sense approach to many of the issues we have discussed. I believe we should look at every Bill and ask, “Does this make sense?” As far as I am concerned, the Bill goes a long way to address something that needs to be reformed and brought into the 21st century. We need to ensure that the law is fit for purpose. I will support the Bill this evening.
May I associate myself with your comments, Mr Deputy Speaker, about Captain Sir Tom Moore? It is a sad loss for our country and, of course, especially for his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate as I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on general aviation, the Member of Parliament who represents Cornwall Airport Newquay, and a keen supporter of our aviation sector and especially our regional airports. I very much welcome the Bill and will be pleased to support it later this evening. I acknowledge all the work that the Minister and previous Ministers have put in, along with officials in the Department, to get us to this point. It has taken longer than we expected because of a number of factors, but the approach that the Department has taken—to engage and listen to stakeholders across the aviation sector—has been hugely welcomed and, along with the input from the other place, means that the Bill before us is a very good one.
The UK’s airspace is our invisible infrastructure in the sky. It is vital to the success of our aviation sector and the wider economy. It will become increasingly important in the years to come, with the development of clean flights through clean fuels and electric and hydrogen-powered flight. In recent times, there have been those who have prophesised the demise of aviation in the light of the need to reduce our carbon footprint, but I believe that its best days lie ahead. The industry is committed to playing a key part in helping the UK to achieve the Government’s ambitious aims on cutting our carbon emissions, and good progress is being made.
Although the sector has taken a huge hit, both in the UK and globally, because of the pandemic, I have every confidence that it will bounce back with the right support. We should use the current crisis to ensure that the sector is able to accelerate reform to a cleaner future. That is why it is vital that the Government continue to support the sector to ensure that it is able to lead our national recovery. The regional support for airports through the offsetting of business rates is welcome, but it would be remiss of me not to make the case for further sector support for airlines, those in the supply chain and airports at this incredibly challenging time.
We have a world-leading aviation sector of which we should be proud. We have the third-largest aviation network in the world and the second-largest aerospace manufacturing sector, supporting 1 million jobs and with a turnover in excess of £60 billion before the pandemic. Yet despite all the developments and growth in aviation over decades, the UK’s airspace has largely remained unchanged for 60 years. Review and change is long overdue, and the measures in the Bill are welcome and essential.
It is a huge credit to the UK aviation sector that it has maintained the growth it has, despite us lagging behind the rest of the world in airspace management. As aircraft and aviation technologies have advanced in the past 60 years, our airspace management has not kept pace. That has led at times to inefficient use of airspace, which has often contributed to higher pollution and noise.
I have nothing but admiration for those at NATS who manage our airspace in what has been one of the most complex airborne environments in the world, underpinned by an overly bureaucratic system of outdated legislation and complex guidance. The strains on our airspace have become most apparent in recent years. Prior to covid, flight delays in minutes per year had been increasing consistently in the five years leading up to 2020. That coincided with a year-on-year rise in the number of flights in the UK. Most alarmingly, estimates by the DFT suggest that, without the modernising of air traffic, delays could rise by 72 times by 2030, with more than one flight in every three from UK airports expected to depart more than half an hour late. Those estimates were admittedly put together prior to the pandemic, but when we do return to the pre-2019 level of flights in 2023 or 2024 as expected, we are unlikely to see a change in the trend of delayed flights without modernisation of our airspace.
The implementation of the reforms, innovations and technological solutions set out in the Bill are essential for our future prosperity. As we continue to deliver modern airports and state-of-the-art fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly aircraft, it would be a missed opportunity for us not also to modernise our airspace in the process. I am pleased that that is exactly what the Bill will bring about. I welcome the Bill also because it is a great example of cross-party parliamentarians from both Houses of Parliament working together with Government Departments and relevant civil authorities on issues of common concern that can be addressed only by bringing all stakeholders on board.
The all-party parliamentary group on general aviation, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport started and chaired for many years, has long looked into the issue of airspace change. In summer 2019, the APPG’s dedicated working group on airspace published its report of the inquiry led by the noble Lord Kirkhope on the adequacy of our airspace, especially at the lower—arguably more dangerous—end of below 7,000 feet. One important recommendation from the inquiry to the DFT and CAA was the introduction of a ratchet-down process for removing underused volumes of controlled airspace. It also suggested that the CAA should make a radical shift in its internal processes for airspace change to allow for greater flexibility in future airspace design. I am pleased to see both recommendations incorporated in the Bill and thank Ministers and officials for their proactive and positive engagement with members of the APPG in the consultation process.
The Bill will achieve this modernisation in three main parts. It will allow for an airport or other person involved in airspace change to be compelled to progress or co-operate with an airspace change proposal in line with the overall modernisation strategy. The second part of the Bill will bring in much needed updates to our airspace licensing regime in accordance with best practice. Part 3 relates to unmanned aircraft such as drones, which are no doubt a critical part of the future of aviation; their development is important for our economy for the future.
General aviation is often overlooked in the aviation policies of successive Governments, but general aviation matters. GA contributes over £1 billion to the UK economy, and supports hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs across all regions of the UK. GA is also important as a gateway to the UK’s world-beating commercial aviation sector. General aviation activities such as gliding provide accessible grassroots, which often help to inspire young people into science, technology, maths and engineering subjects. GA platforms are also the best early testbeds for new technologies, such as electric propulsion. Without free airspace to test in, the UK will be at a competitive disadvantage for attracting high-tech aviation companies just as we are seeing the dawn of the new era of sustainable aviation.
General aviation is often overlooked when it comes to airspace management, and often finds itself restricted, or excluded from too much airspace. The Bill grants the Government—and, by extension, the CAA—the power to request that an air navigation service provider change its airspace in a certain way. This will be the first time that our regulator has ever been given this power, which is commonly found in other countries. The Bill will complement the CAA’s airspace modernisation strategy, which aims to rationalise the UK’s airspace system, bringing greater efficiency to air transport. Indeed, alongside the strategy is a commitment to look at reclassifying areas of low airspace that are problematic for general aviation. To improve use of lower airspace, it may be necessary to compel an airport to reduce its area of controlled airspace. This would not be achieved without the powers contained in the Bill.
Finally, I turn to the much discussed Government amendment on the temporary alleviation of the 80:20 usage rule, which requires airlines to use their allocated airport slots at least 80% of the time to retain entitlement to the same slots in the next equivalent scheduling period. I fully understand the rationale behind this. We do not want to see airlines continuing to fly empty or near-empty aircrafts at huge financial and environmental costs for the sake of keeping their slots. When administered well, the reprieve from this rule can form an essential part of the wider package of support for the industry. However, I urge Ministers to ensure that it does not pose any obstacle to maintaining critical connections between regional and national airports, and thus hinder the Government’s agenda to drive regional growth. I seek the Minister’s assurance that we will not miss this opportunity to ensure that slot allocation is not a barrier to growth, and that we grow our essential connectivity to our major airports for regional airports.
The Bill will bring much needed changes to modernise our airspace and improve efficiency of air traffic management. It will help to deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys, which will help to reduce carbon emissions while increasing capacity where needed, increasing the resilience of our airspace and allowing greater access for general aviation. The Bill represents yet another positive step for the future of British aviation. I am pleased to support the Bill and urge colleagues across the House to do so.
I am sorry that you cannot see me, Mr Deputy Speaker. Thank you for updating the House with the very sad news about Captain Sir Tom Moore’s death. I extend the Liberal Democrats’ condolences to the family at this very sad news. His positive and energetic response to the lockdown last summer was an inspiration to many people at a time when we really needed it, and a great sadness at the news of his death will extend far beyond his family and friends.
I am speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrats on this important piece of legislation. It is fantastic that it is finally making its way through the Houses of Parliament. It is a really important and long overdue airspace modernisation Bill, and I welcome its Second Reading today. The Liberal Democrats will be supporting all parts of the Bill. Obviously, anything at all to do with airspace modernisation will be closely monitored in Richmond Park, especially in the light of changes to the aviation industry resulting from covid-19. We have seen an enormous drop in aviation activity; in terms of the overall noise that my residents are experiencing, that is certainly something that we welcome.
We very much welcome the Government taking powers to implement airspace change in part 1 of the Bill, because we hope that by taking control of such changes, they will enable residents who live under flightpaths or near airports to be listened to. Residents should have the opportunity to respond to consultations, and to have the Government respond to their views when changes are proposed. This should not be driven just by the airline industry, and I believe we can get a better balance so that all different and competing interests are reflected in this airspace change which, as other hon. Members have said, is long overdue.
Hon. Members have been speaking about aircraft noise, and about developments such as noise-saving or quieter aircraft. I hope we will be able to bank any improvements in aircraft noise, as that will improve the quality of life for residents everywhere, and certainly for those who live under flight paths and near airports. I hope that can be about a general improvement in quality of life, rather than the proposal, which I have seen, for such improvements just to mean that we have more aircraft, so that we would maintain current levels of noise, but with more, quieter, aircraft. I want to push back against that, and encourage the Minister to think about a gradual alleviation of the burden of noise on residents everywhere.
We welcome the temporary provisions in part 2 of the Bill on slot allocation, which will provide certainty for an industry that has had the most catastrophic year and is looking very much to the future. Airlines will want to know that their slots are protected, and the change in legislation makes a great deal of sense. As others have highlighted, it is absurd that airlines should feel forced to provide empty or half-empty services just to maintain slots. That is not only a waste of money—a precious cost that the industry can ill afford at this time—but the impact on carbon emissions does not need spelling out. We are all committed to reducing unnecessary carbon emissions, and we need the Bill to stop those unnecessary flights. The Bill will introduce welcome flexibility to slot allocation as we go forward and find our way out of the covid pandemic, and particularly when we start to rebuild the aviation industry after the lockdown. That will enable the industry to respond better to changes in demand, with a corresponding saving in costs and carbon emissions.
I welcome the legislation on drones, which is long overdue. Drones have been a feature of UK life for a considerable time, and until now much of the regulation on their use has been contained in CAA regulations. The use of drones should be governed by criminal law, and as we saw with the Gatwick shutdown at Christmas 2018, proper legislation is long overdue. Drones will have a transformative impact on British life over the next 10 to 15 years, and they have clear and proven benefits to our military, police and emergency services. There are emerging applications for drones in our business and creative sectors. Those advantages have also been exploited by criminals and terrorists, and it is right to introduce powers to clamp down on illegal usage and make the fullest positive use of the new technology. Part of that involves building trust among the British public regarding the use of drones and those who use them, so that they know that drones are properly regulated and licensed and that usage is monitored. That will give us the opportunity fully to exploit their potential.
I am concerned that the Bill does not address the pressing issue of privacy and the threat to it that drones represent. Addressing that properly will encourage the British public in their confidence about drone use. I hope the Government will continue to monitor the development of drone use, and be prepared to update legislation accordingly, as and when new uses appear—including potentially negative uses—so that we maintain the British public’s trust in that emerging and exciting new technology.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney). This is a good Bill, and I commend the Minister and his team for its drafting and for bringing it forward at this time. It is a very relevant Bill for Bedfordshire, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said, many people in Bedfordshire work at London Luton airport and in its associated supply chain. Owing to protocol, as a Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) is not contributing in this debate, but I am sure that she would want to commend to the House the work of Cranfield University. I believe it is the only university with its own airport, and it plays a leading role in our understanding of aircraft, airport and airspace management.
This is also a timely Bill, because although, as the Minister said, most have paused their consultation work on airspace changes, there is an ongoing consultation on airspace at Luton airport, in combination with Stansted. I wish to draw attention to certain features of that as they relate to this Bill. The Bill rightly recognises that in the allocation and sharing of the limited resource of airspace above the United Kingdom there is a considerable public interest. The Bill focuses, correctly, on making sure that in that process overall public interest is achieved to the best extent as quickly and efficiently as possible. In doing so, it brings to the Civil Aviation Authority and to the Department certain additional ways of compelling airports to make changes that will achieve a speedier resolution of airspace allocations, which will in turn achieve some of our other goals.
One of the most important of those goals is achieving air quality standards and making sure that our aviation industry is sustainable as we seek to achieve our climate change goals. Although the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) was right to say that this Bill is just a part of that and that there is a large whole that we need to consider, I hope he would recognise that the Government are right to bring forward this part of the puzzle; it is a crucial part of our achieving that overall ambition.
The third area of public interest is in the issue of externalities. Although many people work in and use airports, a great number of people are also affected by airports and their use. Airports, by their very nature, can create noise pollution, and they create air pollution and congestion. Those points come to the fore when consultations about airspace changes take place, as is the case currently with the Luton and Stansted airspace changes consultation.
That process is under way and the Minister’s comments in this debate may therefore be curtailed, but I point out to him that many of my constituents feel that their ability as members of the public to participate in that consultation has been curtailed, not just because of covid restrictions, but by the very framework by which the public can voice their opinions about those changes. In trying to move pieces around and achieve an overall picture that works for the country as a whole, our national airspace control is perhaps intrinsically limited in what it can offer as suggestions to the public for their consultation. In the London Luton airport consultation, the public in Bedfordshire have been left with a limited choice of options to be consulted on. They therefore feel that their democratic voice is not being heard. What consideration has the Minister given to ensuring that, as we achieve greater speed in the process, the public truly have a voice in the resolution of deciding on flightpaths?
That takes us on to the sharing of benefits. We are having a consultation in Bedfordshire because Luton airport wishes to expand, which will be very much to the financial benefit of the operator of Luton airport and also of the landlords—that is, one of the local authorities in Bedfordshire, Luton Borough Council. Both the airport operator and Luton Borough Council should anticipate considerable increases in their revenues from that expansion, yet it is the residents of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire who will incur the costs of those externalities, whether that is in air quality, noise pollution or their ability to get around and about because of road congestion. That is not addressed in the Bill and, again, I would be interested in the Minister’s view of whether it is appropriate, as part of the allocation of airspace, to start to see in this Bill consideration of how those affected by the changes can receive compensation from those who benefit from them.
The parts of the Bill that refer to drones are welcome additional legislation. This is a good move for the Government, providing some order in how the criminal uses of drones can be controlled. I was reassured in my conversations with the Minister that the additional burdens and responsibilities on police forces should not be considerable. This is a particular issue in Bedfordshire, again, where police resources are spread so thinly. As other Members have said, it is particularly around airports that the misuse of drones becomes of such great concern to the public. I would be grateful if the Minister could comment further about his expectations of the burden on police time, in order to give additional reassurance to the police.
While I am on the issue of the police, I was interested in the comments made by the hon. Member for Richmond Park about the police use of drones. That is not in the Bill, but I would point out to the Minister that there is considerable advantage in the police being able to use drones in everyday policing. As a Member of Parliament for a largely rural constituency, I know that drones offer an opportunity for response times that other modes of transportation would be unable to accomplish. As part of this overall review of airspace, what consultations has the Minister been having with the Home Office to ensure that any future required use of drones by the police will be adequately covered by the regulations that we are looking at today?
I close by joining colleagues in paying tribute to Captain Sir Tom Moore, a national hero and an adopted son of Bedfordshire, with these words, which he used to encourage us last April, when we were perhaps at the darkest of times. He said:
“To all those…finding it difficult…the sun will shine on you again, and the clouds will go away”.
On that note, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I also briefly mention my own sadness at hearing of the death of Captain Sir Tom Moore? I am sure that all our thoughts are with his family, who must be unspeakably proud of the enormous contribution that he has made through his fundraising to our national morale and to the NHS in this most difficult of times.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) in this important and much-delayed debate. Covid-19 has cast light on a number of issues perhaps forgotten and deserving of more attention, and this is one that has been neglected as a result of the pandemic. Airspace has been part of my political career from the moment I was elected—indeed, before then—in 2017. The proposed new flight paths for Edinburgh airport, which are part of the new airspace management proposals, were already controversial. One of the first issues I had to address immediately after my election that year was the proposals following the consultation with the Civil Aviation Authority. Since then, there has been little, if any, progress, and even before covid-19 the process had stalled. The uncertainty and delay around this Bill has created an unfair situation not just for the industry and the airports but for the communities around them. The noise pollution and air pollution created by flightpaths needs to be addressed, and communities must have a say in that.
The last time that management of our astonishingly complex airspace was seriously addressed was, as we have heard, in the 1950s. Decades and decades have passed with nothing close to substantial update or alteration. If that were in any other area—say, our roads or our railways—we would be shocked. We have seen so many advances and it is unimaginable that there has not been modernisation.
As we seek to recover from covid-19, we need this Bill to give people the confidence that we have done, and are doing, all we can to deliver more efficient and greener journeys for everyone. As part of that, we also need to tackle the illegal use of drones and prioritise people’s safety above all else, balancing the rights and liberties of those who use them and the many advantages that we have heard that they can bring. In 2017 alone, there were more than 50 reported near misses. Imagine the devastation and the loss of life that could have been caused if one of those unmanned aircraft collided with, perhaps, a wide-bodied jet at an airport close to a highly populated area. We need geofencing software to make it impossible for these drones to encroach on commercial and military airspace. We need to make sure that all the new powers of enforcement are proportionate and acknowledge that the majority of users are law-abiding. We also need to acknowledge, as previous speakers have mentioned, the advantages that could come from proper and effective use of these unmanned aircraft.
We need to see, as part of this process, the safeguarding of slots. We have heard mention of the 80:20 rule. So many of these slots have been underused over the past year and could have been lost. We must suspend such automatic suspension. The impact in Scotland of failure to maintain those slots could be crucial to our connectivity, not just with the continent and with London but within Scotland itself, between our mainland airports and the islands. For my own airport in Edinburgh, the routes to London are a vital business connection for the economy not just of Edinburgh but of all of Scotland. Over the recent period, we have seen a steep decline in the number of flights—practically to zero at some points. If those slots were to be lost, our economic recovery would be so much more difficult.
All these issues have to be looked at in conjunction with the other major threat that we face: the threat to our climate. We must acknowledge that the aviation industry and its air traffic is crucial to tackling that. In achieving our net zero targets, fossil fuels, emissions and noise pollution must all be addressed.
This Bill has taken too long and we need to make sure that it progresses now. More delays would mean delays to economic progress, air safety and climate action, and all of that would be unacceptable.
May I first, on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, offer my sincere condolences to Captain Tom’s daughters and family at a very sad time? Every one of us was inspired by his words when we were all perhaps looking inward and thinking negative thoughts. He inspired us at a time that we really needed it. There was not a morning when we heard him speaking on the television that we did not feel a wee bit better. The hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) spoke about some of his words. There is one wee sentence that I remember, and always will—I have quoted it many times in this House and to my friends and people I speak to. He always said that
“tomorrow will be a better day”.
The day that he inspired us all as a nation was a better day for us, and it is something that we will never forget.
Thank you for allowing me to speak briefly on this Bill, Madam Deputy Speaker. The legislation has been a long time coming. We all recall the shutting down of Gatwick airport and the disruption caused a number of years ago by drones. At that stage, it was clear that while there are many wonderful uses for unmanned aircraft, there are also nefarious ones, and these must be addressed in legislation. That is why I welcome this legislation: it addresses those issues, and I thank the Minister and Government in advance for that. Let us thank them when they do things right, and today they have it right.
I welcome the news of the development of drone fighters through the Ministry of Defence at the former Bombardier plant in Northern Ireland by Spirit AeroSystems Holdings. This £30 million design contract is a three-year deal to build a prototype model, which will help to support 100 jobs at the Belfast aero-structures factory by developing so-called “loyal wingman” drones by the end of the decade to serve alongside the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35 warplanes. The Royal Air Force’s first unmanned craft would be armed with missiles and carry surveillance and electronic warfare technology.
I have discussed this with the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), and we have worked in conjunction with the Minister to try to ensure that these are the sort of contracts that come. I do not know for definite, but I am sure that the Minister had a role to play in that, and I thank him in advance. We really do appreciate it. At a time when we hear all the negativity about the high street, it is good to know that we have manufacturing jobs in place in Belfast, and that will spin off for my constituents in Strangford as well.
The Bill is necessary and welcome. I understand that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has used drones more than 370 times since June 2013. Figures obtained by BBC News NI showed that the PSNI used drones in wildlife rescues, missing person hunts and VIP visits. They have very much been a necessary tool in search and rescue missions, as well as being used in other areas. The benefits of drones for security and as a tool to help the security forces is very clear, but there must still be regulation. I therefore welcome the fact that the Bill provides protection on all sides for the expanding use of drones. Some people phoned me and asked, “Where can we use drones?”, so this needs to be regulated and, clearly, we have seen many examples where they have not been used in the correct place.
There are also concerns about the use of drones to smuggle contraband into prisons—this is one of my major concerns. I have asked these questions of Justice Ministers and they always come back with a positive answer. However, these things are happening and the Government have introduced measures to try to stop it.
I read a very interesting report by a prison chief, who openly stated that while the threat to prison security from drones, used to drop consignments into establishments, has been known for several years, it is now the case that
“technology has evolved rapidly to allow the devices to be directed to an”
“cell window using GPS transmitters the size of a little finger.”
Technology has moved on and that is why this legislation is so important. The article by Cahal Milmo for inews.co.uk went on to say that
“while the prison service had developed technology capable of detecting and blocking signals used by drones and encrypted telephones smuggled into prison, the prohibitive cost of the equipment and the training to operate it meant it could only be used at a small number of jails.”
The Minister is not responsible for jails and for justice, but if there are examples of drones being used to bring contraband and illegal substances into prisons, such equipment should be made available to every prison. In Northern Ireland, drones have been used on multiple occasions to drop goods from cigarettes to drugs, and even family photographs, so it is clear that the introduction of new rules in 2019, while welcome, was insufficient. That is why we need the Bill.
I recently contacted my local council to see how I could help someone who was suffering owing to antisocial behaviour, which, by the way, was noise caused by the misuse of a drone in close proximity to his house, as well as a number of other houses in the area. It is clear that our local authorities and police force need more to work with. It is my hope that the Bill will deliver exactly that, and I think it will.
Clauses 13 to 18, together with schedules 8 to 11, will expand the regulatory framework to address misuse of unmanned aircraft. The Bill will provide powers to police the misuse of unmanned aircraft, including grounding unmanned aircraft, stopping and searching people and vehicles, obtaining a warrant to search property, and fixed penalties for certain offences relating to unmanned aircraft.
I look upon the Minister not just as a Minister but as a personal friend, and his energy and interest in the subject are expressed in the way he does his job. I say a big thank you to him for that. I also thank the Government for what they do and for introducing a Bill that encapsulates the strength of the House and brings us together. You know me, Madam Deputy Speaker: I often say that we are better together and better when we work together to make things happen. Today is an example of that.
The proposals are sensible and I support the Government in their aim to enable those using drones for the right reasons to do so legally by licence. Those who use drones for other purposes should understand that there are severe penalties for doing so. I welcome the Bill and its aims.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Given his weekly commute, he is well placed to comment on air travel. As always, he spoke with great authority.
The Bill is welcome, and I congratulate the Minister and his predecessor on the work they have done in the other place and on bringing the Bill to the House relatively unchanged and with cross-party support. This is a good Bill and I support it.
My constituency sits mid-way between Manchester and Liverpool John Lennon airports, so in the skies above the town we see flights coming from all directions just after take-off or as they come in to land. We are well aware of the need to ensure that there is co-ordination between airport operators when they plan routes. I am also very aware that around 4,000 of my constituents are employed in this sector. This is an important part of the local economy.
I agree with the Minister that there is a need to modernise UK airspace, and I welcome the plan to make journeys quicker, quieter and cleaner. Most important, though, is retaining the essential elements of safety in our skies, which are some of the busiest and most complicated in the world. It is therefore critical that we prepare for the next 50 years. The UK aviation sector is a global leader and an engine for growth, and we need it to be fit for purpose to enable levelling up in our UK regions.
As we know, owing to covid-19, there is only limited air traffic, with most airports running at between 1% and 3% of normal passenger levels. We also know that air travel will return, and we need to ensure that our airspace—our infrastructure; highways in the sky—is fit for purpose in a post-pandemic world.
As someone who lives under the flight path for aircraft leaving Manchester airport, I am particularly pleased to hear that this programme will also have an impact on noise. By simplifying UK airspace, we are making it more efficient. It will deliver more precise and more direct routes, preventing rising delays and reducing congestion. These upgrades to our regulatory infrastructure will be essential in reducing the environmental impact of UK flights by reducing miles flown and carbon dioxide levels, alongside industry efforts to develop more fuel-efficient engines and cleaner, sustainable fuels.
Advances in aircraft and air traffic control capabilities risk other countries pressing ahead with modernising their systems, while we risk lagging behind if we do not do the same and support the Bill. Airspace modernisation, by facilitating emissions savings, is therefore a key component of the UK’s legally binding commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, while also benefiting all users of airspace, including general aviation flyers, and tackling the misuse of new types of unmanned aircraft, such as drones, which I will talk about later.
One of the main challenges that might impede the implementation of the Bill and future planning will be the financial state of the industry. I am particularly pleased to welcome the £8 million of UK Government support grant funding for airports such as Manchester and Liverpool announced last week. Airports have seen their revenues disappear almost completely for nearly 12 months now. We cannot ignore this issue. I urge the Minister to continue dialogue with airport operators. It would be remiss of me not to mention the ongoing support that I know the sector will continue to need in the coming months, before it can soar again.
Part 2 of the Bill will modernise regulatory provision relating to air traffic services provided by National Air Traffic Services and regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority, ensuring that the framework remains fit for purpose and continues to build on the UK’s excellent safety record. The Bill will also enable us to continue to provide alleviation from the requirements to use slots at co-ordinated airports—the 80:20 rule that so many of my colleagues have talked about—for a further time, into 2024. During a pandemic, when flight demand has significantly decreased, we are no longer compelling airlines to run empty flights, costing money and causing pollution just to keep their slots.
Finally, part 3 of the Bill provides new, additional police powers to tackle the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft. It has been developed in conjunction with the Home Office and police forces.
Unmanned aircraft are increasingly being used across the industry and have huge potential for good. Drones are being put to good use by the emergency services, for example, and more broadly can help to improve efficiency in industries such as construction. However, it is crucial that a careful balance is struck in our approach to this technology, to ensure that the successful uptake of drones is matched by strong safeguards to provide public safety, privacy and security.
There is a real threat to aviation. Just before Christmas, the UK Air Safety Board reported on what was described as the closest ever near miss in the UK, when an EasyJet Airbus flying at 8,000 feet, having just taken off over the Cheshire countryside, came within feet of a 10 kg drone. The consequences of the collision would have been disastrous for passengers, crew and those on the ground. We saw the impact at Gatwick when new technology was used to ground flights. I welcome the additional stop-and-search powers for those suspected of being involved with offences involving unmanned aircrafts.
I spoke recently to the governor of Thorn Cross Prison at Appleton Thorn and I am aware of the challenges that the Prison Service faces from the use of drones illegally delivering contraband to convicted criminals. Governors are having to take measures to protect the prison estate, so the additional steps in the Bill are very welcome indeed.
Having not undergone any significant modernisation since the 1950s, there is no doubt that our airspace is in need of change to meet the increasing demands that will continue when the sector returns to full force. The technological advances in unmanned aircraft also present significant challenges. I will be supporting the Bill today.
I offer my condolences to the family and friends of Captain Sir Tom Moore. He gave us optimism at a time when the country faced a terrible crisis. I think we can all agree that he is the definition of a modern hero.
May I start by associating myself with what my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) said about Captain Sir Tom Moore? Last year, he really did inspire the nation with his fundraising, but of course he also helped to save the nation over 80 years before. It is a very sad day, and my condolences go to his family. He has really shown us the best of British in what he did last year in responding to coronavirus.
I turn to the subject of today’s debate. After all the Brexit and covid-related legislation that we have been through so far, a Bill such as this is quite refreshing for a new MP. It is a more traditional piece of legislation: an important update that reflects changes in the world and aims to future-proof—as best we can—for the world we are going to get back into once we get past the pandemic. I congratulate the Minister and welcome him to his place, and also congratulate Baroness Vere on all the work she did on the Bill in the Lords. This is a case of proportionate regulation, which is what we always seek to do as a Government and as a Conservative party. We recognise the need for regulation. It needs to be proportionate and to not put undue burdens on businesses, but we need to make sure that things work, and work for the good of the country.
I turn briefly to the first of the Bill’s three parts, on airspace management. It is to be hoped that airports can co-operate without the requirement for the Secretary of State to compel them; perhaps this Bill will make the voluntary process a little more voluntary, if you understand what I mean, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, we have an airspace modernisation strategy and, within that, some airports may need to release underused controlled airspace, for example. As many of my colleagues have said, including my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South, we have a very complex airspace—one of the most complicated in the world. Of course, it is very empty at the moment for the reasons we have discussed, but anything we can do to modernise that and make things work better is obviously something we should be encouraging as a Government. We need quicker, quieter, cleaner journeys. Unnecessary fuel burning on approach is not only ridiculous from a green perspective, but leads to a great deal of noise and inconvenience for individuals.
In itself, that is the source of delays. As we have heard from a number of colleagues, one in three flights might be significantly delayed by 2030 if we do not pass this legislation today. Of course, that also creates more capacity, and although none of us can know exactly what the world is going to look like, I think having that capacity is a good thing: whether we use it or not, it allows us to be more efficient in the way we route our flights and go on holiday, as well as in our world trade, as the Minister said. We are just about to accede to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, one hopes—we are starting the proceedings for that—and we will need our aviation industry to be part of our trade with the rest of the world as well.
The second part is mostly tidying up and modernising, but what it needs to do, and what it does, is reflect our safety record and ensure that we maintain that record. I think that new clause 12, which the Government introduced while the Bill was in the Lords—this is the covid-related aspect of today’s legislation, I suppose—is a very sensible amendment that reflects the situation we are in at present. Personally, I would favour a much more market-based approach to slots in future. However, with the industry on its knees at the moment, now is clearly not the right time for that and in any event it would require global co-operation. The idea that things should be grandfathered down forever and ever does not strike me as a modern way to do things, but I understand that is how we have to operate at the moment, and the proposals in new clause 12 are a sensible suspension of that process while we work through covid.
Part 3 deals with unarmed aircraft or drones. We have heard from many people, including the Minister, that drones are having a huge effect on lots of important areas. They can be a real boon to many industries, including search and rescue and medical supplies, and are also a very engaging hobby, as I have seen for myself when walking up in the Staffordshire moorlands.
I have no desire—nor, I am sure, do the Government—to demonise responsible owners of drones who are having fun with them, getting out and enjoying the great outdoors. However, we need measures to guard against malicious use, and we also need sensitive sites to be able to defend themselves. That includes airports, as we saw at Gatwick, and some of our most sensitive sites, such as nuclear sites; it also includes prisons, as many have said. The idea that drones can get around prisons, or get over and into prisons, is one that nobody should tolerate, and I know the police are very keen for us to get this legislation passed so that we can cut down on what is going on there. We also need a solution so that a single sighting of a drone does not close an airport, and the measures in the Bill mean that we will not see repeats of what happened at Gatwick.
I will conclude, because I can see that my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell) is desperate to stand up and make his speech; I can see him grinning. This is a solid piece of legislation. I am glad that it has cross-party support. It has already been tried and tested in the Lords, with amendments incorporated into it. This is how the House should proceed with measures such as this, which are all about ensuring that we are battle-ready for both the present and future in important industries such as aviation that have such an important part to play in our future. I commend the Minister for his opening speech and for all his work on the Bill.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) for his excellent speech. First, I would like to join others in paying tribute to Captain Tom. I felt last year that he was almost a grandfather to the nation. We have definitely lost a member of our British family in the last few hours, and I send my condolences to his family. He was truly one of the best of us.
I will speak primarily to parts 1 and 3. I thank the Ministers and all involved with the Bill, which does something quite transformative for not just the industry but the country. The last major change to legislation in this area happened in the 1950s. It is quite incredible to think that the rules and legislation on this industry have not changed in that time, given that the industry has shaped not just how we live but how we look at the world, how we understand other cultures and how we understand one another, and has made the world a little bit smaller as technology has advanced.
For many years as a student, I worked at an airport. I did everything from cleaning toilets to patrolling car parks—not that I was particularly threatening when walking around in my yellow jacket. What I saw back then was the incredible passion of those who work in the airline industry—everyone from those who made sure that the planes were safe to fly to those who were flying them. It is right for Government to ensure that, as we look to the next 20, 30, 40 and 50 years, we have an ambitious plan that puts security, safety and the traveller at the heart of it. Part 1, which relates to the collaborative approach and the ways in which airlines can work together, does that. It is so important to ensure that passengers are put at the heart of this, and the Bill does that very well.
I mentioned that the last major change was made in the 1950s. That reminds me, as a science fiction fan, of the prediction by Arthur C. Clarke in 1945 of the idea of satellites. Back then, that was truly science fiction. We did not imagine that satellites would exist in the way they do today, and they have transformed our lives in so many ways. With this Bill, and in particular part 3, we are seeing what was science fiction being transformed into science fact.
The role of drones in society over just a few years has been transformative. Organisations such as Amazon use them to deliver parcels. There are medical opportunities —for example, to deliver vaccines, especially in far-flung countries where it is perhaps easier to travel long distances by air, via unmanned vehicles, than it would be in the UK.
With every good move in technology and in the shift from fiction to fact, we have to take into account the impact on real lives. Given the impact that unmanned vehicles could have on society, it is right that the Bill gives the Home Office and the police powers to ensure that these vehicles are used in the right way and do not create more danger and risk to those around us. We have heard excellent speeches about drones being used to drop illicit substances and items into prisons, and we have heard about the dangers of drones at airports, potentially risking lives by flying too close or even flying into manned vehicles.
When we look forward, we have got to look at this issue in the round, and the Bill really does that. It enables additional police powers and creates the ability to have an industry around drones that will put up to £42 billion into the economy by 2030. It is creating a lot of opportunity, but in a safe way.
When people look back in 50 or 60 years’ time to the legislation being put in place now, I believe they will look at this Bill and see how balanced it was, how forward-thinking it was and how it enabled us to ensure that legislation and Bills were in place to protect society, while not binding the hands of those who want to develop new opportunities to create technology that can transform the society we live in.
Before summing up the debate, I would like once again to offer Her Majesty’s official Opposition’s condolences to the family and friends of Sir Tom Moore. While we hurt today, he reminded us that tomorrow will be a better day.
It has been a terrific debate—really well informed and the House at its best. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, it is about co-operation and trying to get our aviation sector to a better place in a difficult time. I thank the Members who have contributed today. The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said that our airways are part of our critical national infrastructure, and that is how we should treat them. Let us make sure that we improve them. If there is a hold-up at Treasury, as he says, let us get past that and do this for the good of the industry and the country.
As the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) said, while drones can be a force for good in the world, they can be a force for evil, with malicious use by the drug barons and others, and that is why we need to have better police powers, which are intended to be in this Bill.
The right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) said it is crucial we find a way to redress the environmental impact of aviation. Nobody would be against that and that is what we all seek to do. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has grappled with the issues of having one of the world’s major airports in his constituency. The approach is piecemeal to a certain extent, and we do need a comprehensive strategy, and let us hope we get there in the near future.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) has expertise and is a pilot himself. He spoke of a single authority to broker co-operation. That is what the Bill hopes to achieve. Airspace modernisation will be a benefit for small craft such as the one he flies; as it happens, I am sure the Secretary of State will also be pleased by that. He also rightly pointed out the effect of the pandemic on regional airports. While we welcome the business rates support, we know that for some airports that hardly touched the sides, and I will come back to that point in a second.
The hon. Member for South Antrim (Paul Girvan) spoke about quicker, quieter, cleaner journeys, and that is what is required. The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), whom I praise for his work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on general aviation, said that the best days lie ahead for aviation, and I believe that. With electric flights, hydrogen flights and clean fuel flights, there is the opportunity to modernise. Labour has called for a further sector-specific deal, and he echoed that by saying that further support is required and not only in aviation. As he mentioned, we can inspire our young people into STEM subjects and the industry.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) rightly pointed out that we enable residents to have a say through consultation, and that is important. That point was echoed by the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller). It is unimaginable that the airspace above the constituency of the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) has not been modernised since the 1950s. Since then, Yuri Gagarin went into space and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. It is time for this legislation.
As ever, my good friend the hon. Member for Strangford spoke about the immense benefits that drone technology will bring to the Northern Ireland economy. The Minister and I cover maritime as well, and there is just the search and rescue capability we have not even thought of that can be inspired by drone technology and, again, we hope to see that come on stream.
The hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter), whose airport lies between Manchester’s in my constituency and John Lennon airport, is right. Our skies are packed in good times, and we need better co-ordination. He said it: we need to set our eyes on the horizon and to be looking 50 years ahead. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) said we need to future-proof our airspace for the world we want to see again. Finally, the hon. Member for Watford (Dean Russell), who has just spoken about his real lived experience of working in an airport—there is nothing quite like it—said that security, safety and the passenger experience have to be at the heart of what we do. I hope that we can explore some of those themes further in the Bill Committee.
With the leave of the House, I would like to sum up the debate for the Government. May I also, at the outset, associate myself and Her Majesty’s Government with the comments from all hon. Members about the very sad passing of Captain Sir Tom Moore? He was perhaps the perfect exemplar of that golden generation. He was a gentleman, an inspiration, a light in the covid darkness and a cheerful ray of hope to all of the country, and of course, above all, to his family, to whom we send our condolences. He will be terribly missed not only by them, but by the whole nation.
I thank hon. Members for all the contributions to the debate we have heard today. I entirely associate myself with the comments the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) has just made: this has been an exceptionally well-informed, constructive and interesting debate. I will turn to as many of the points as I can today without, I hope, droning on too long, but if there are any points that I do not manage to fly through in time or any points that I do not sufficiently land, I will return to hon. Members in writing. [Laughter.] I will stop there, I promise.
I turn first to the funding for airspace change, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and, indeed, the hon. Members for Wythenshawe and Sale East and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands). The Government recognise entirely the challenging times the sector is facing due to covid, but the Government are confident, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) argued, that the sector will recover. While that may take some time, it does not diminish the historic importance and the need for our airspace to be modernised.
The inefficiencies in our existing airspace design, as we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell), for example—he spoke about its not having changed since the 1950s—will continue to cause delays for passengers and unnecessary emissions for our environment. That has rightly been a focus of many hon. Members’ speeches today, as we look forward to jet zero and a clean aviation sector in future, as have the problems with noise, which I will turn to in a moment.
It is important for me, however, to be clear up front that, while we recognise the severe impact that covid-19 is having on the aviation sector, the user pays policy principle is an important one: those who stand to benefit from airspace change should pay for the costs of such a change. In the light of the pandemic and its effects, at the moment most airports have paused their work on airspace change, but the modernisation remains critical to deliver that additional capacity and improve access to airspace for different users. I am particularly mindful of the comments that my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) and for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) made about other types of air users, including, of course, General Aviation.
This modernisation also brings environmental benefits by reducing emissions, such as from the stacking talked about by the hon. Member for South Antrim (Paul Girvan). The Government have asked the Airspace Change Organising Group to revisit the master plan for airspace change in this light, and to ensure that the benefits of the programme are realised and that the investment already made is not lost.
Engagement with communities is key, and it has rightly been a major part of the debate today. It was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire, the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell). As all those Members and others pointed out in today’s debate, there is a need for airspace change to take account not just of the needs of industry, but of the effects on all affected stakeholders, including, of course, local communities. I would therefore like to reassure all Members that this is taken account of already through the Civil Aviation Authority’s CAP 1616 airspace change process. This requires an airspace change proposal, whether part of the airspace modernisation programme or not, to pass a series of gateways, each of which the CAA must approve before it can progress to the next stage. That was introduced in 2018 and replaces the previous CAP 725 process. Some communities and hon. Members are becoming familiar with it.
It is separate from the planning process. CAP 1616 is more comprehensive than the process it succeeds. It provides communities and other interested parties, such as General Aviation, other airports, the Ministry of Defence and commercial aviation, with greater opportunities to comment on and influence airspace changes that could affect them. They will have more opportunities than they have had before. I hope that will be of assistance to all Members who have spoken on that today. The seven steps that an airspace sponsor must go through to facilitate a change in its airspace are laid out there.
If I could turn to some specific points that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire, I am of course aware of the London Luton airport airspace change proposal, which is currently out for consultation. I have received several representations from hon. Members about that. I met my hon. Friend in December to talk about and listen to his constituents’ concerns. He is a powerful advocate for them and has made their views very clearly heard. As I know he will know, my Department is not involved in the consultation, and I cannot comment on its merits for regulatory and legal reasons. However, I urged his constituents to engage with the consultation and to ensure that Luton airport and NATS are fully alive to their concerns. Both Luton airport and NATS are obliged by the regulatory requirements of CAP 1616 to take such concerns into account as they finalise their proposals. This is a vital requirement of the process.
Another big feature of the debate today has been noise. It was mentioned in particular by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), but by other Members as well, and it is closely related to the community consultation point. Of course, the Government recognise that noise can have a significant impact on people’s lives, which is why we introduced new metrics and appraisal guidance in October 2017 to assess noise impacts and their effects on health and quality of life. These will ensure that future airspace changes consider noise impacts much further away from airports than they do at present and that new technology to ensure the more efficient use of our airspace will also produce noise reduction benefits.
I will just say a couple of words about performance-based navigations—PBNs—as I think the House will be interested. They basically use the same equipment as satellite navigation systems in our cars and will improve the accuracy of where aircraft fly, rather than in broad corridors as they do at present. That will provide opportunities to avoid, where possible, noise-sensitive areas including villages or towns. However, it is of course true that in some cases airspace modernisation may result in more concentrated air traffic over communities, but in those cases it may be possible to create multiple concentrated PBN routes that are designed to disperse aircraft to some degree and provide known respite to communities exposed to noise. The Government are also considering how to take forward noise proposals that were contained in the Aviation 2050 Green Paper published in 2015.
I would like to say a word or two following the excellent speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) on flights over areas of outstanding natural beauty. I recognise his huge expertise in both the natural world and aviation. He is justly respected for that. Flights over AONBs are not prohibited. The Government’s air navigation guidance issued to the CAA in October 2017 states that aircraft operators should try to avoid flying over AONBs below 7,000 feet when it is practicable to do so. It is not possible to prohibit flights, as a number of UK airports are close to AONBs or national parks, so there are no powers to prevent flying at low altitude over AONBs for a number of reasons. The Government’s air navigation guidance, as my right hon. Friend said, also requires new sponsors of airspace change proposals to take account of AONBs and national parks when designing their flightpaths.
My hon. Friends the Members for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) and for South West Bedfordshire made a number of points about space and satellites. They rightly pointed out that the use of new technologies offers exciting opportunities for the UK and provides the opportunity to reduce emissions. For example, the ability to track aircraft over the high seas, which is currently impossible, will enable the more accurate prediction of arrival times. That is a key aim of the airspace modernisation strategy, for all the reasons related to tackling climate change and to secure the greener future that we all wish to see. I pay tribute to the comments that were made not only by my hon. Friends but by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay and others. I assure the House that the Government continue to develop their space policy and we are working hard with our industrial partners to ensure that we maximise the benefits.
A number of Members, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Sedgefield and for St Austell and Newquay, mentioned slots. While demand for aviation remains low, it is critical that we support the aviation sector so that it is able to restart services immediately when the pandemic allows. The provisions on slots in part 2 of the Bill will help to support the aviation sector in the short term, while also reducing the need for environmentally damaging ghost flights and their financial impact.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North raised specific concerns. For each future scheduling period, instead of a full alleviation we will be able to look at the data and consider whether it is appropriate to set a lower percentage—for example, 50%—for the slot-usage rule. The data will also help us to consider whether and what conditions could be applied to any alleviation relating to the management of slots. I am keen to point out to all Members that this is a necessary, temporary support measure that will help the industry through the coming years.
The conditions to which I refer could enable available capacity to be backfilled with regional connections or additional freight capacity. I am particularly keen to point that out because the hon. Member for Edinburgh West and my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield both referred to it. My hon. Friend also asked whether I would be happy to meet; of course I would, as I would be happy to meet any Members who would like to discuss that or any other issue in the Bill in detail over the weeks ahead.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay talked about the longer-term reform of slots allocation, the desirability of which I recognise. It will deliver a more dynamic marketplace that is competitive, supports growth and offers high levels of consumer choice. As the UK aviation market recovers from the impacts of covid-19, the Government will need to consider the impact on the industry and reflect that in any review of slots policy. Given the global nature of slots, this work will involve consultation with UK, European and international stakeholders, and the slot-allocation process will be considered in the round with any future review of aviation policy.
Let me return to unmanned aircraft. The hon. Member for South Antrim gave us a vivid and personal description of the difficulties that can be engendered by the malicious use of unmanned aircraft. The Bill will ensure that the police are able to tackle effectively the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft, building on some existing provisions in the Air Navigation Order 2016. It provides them with some new powers, such as the ability to require a person to land an unmanned aircraft, to which I have referred already.
As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) noted, the Bill gives police the powers to investigate criminal offences committed at prisons using drones, while also providing prisons with the powers to use counter-drone technology. The Government have been clear that we will do all we can to ensure that the UK firmly establishes itself as a world leader in unmanned-aircraft technology, but we are alive to the dangers posed by the careless or malicious use of the technology, as the hon. Members for Edinburgh West and for Strangford rightly urged us to be.
One or two Members have recognised the challenges involved for policing, which the Government of course recognise. The police need the tools that are required. We have taken a range of actions to ensure that the police are equipped to tackle the new threat that unmanned aircraft pose, and it is critical that the police have been involved in all stages of the Bill’s development.
Let me turn to some specific points raised by my hon. Friends the Members for North East Bedfordshire and for Warrington South, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East and some others. The Department has worked closely with the Home Office, the police and the CAA to ensure that once the Bill becomes law its powers are realistic to implement. To aid the police in their implementation, we will provide officers with briefings, general guidance and guidance documents. On wider police resourcing, a new team in the National Police Chiefs’ Council working to the national lead has been set up to co-ordinate and govern UK police counter-unmanned aircraft activity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Watford gave us a vivid description of the future and the benefits that drones can provide. The Government absolutely want to capture the benefits of unmanned aircraft for consumers and aim to provide an agile regulatory landscape for that.
I was asked to respond to some specific points, and I will do so briefly before I conclude. The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) asked me in his opening speech about the powers of the Secretary of State and the safeguards. I point him first towards what is contained in the Bill: it is implicit that a direction should be practically possible to be carried out. There is a duty to consult in clause 2(3) and (4), and there is the appeal to the Competition Appeal Tribunal in schedule 1. I have engaged with the AOA on the points that he raised at the beginning of his speech. The hon. Member for South Antrim asked me about laser pens. I direct him to articles 240 and 241 of the Air Navigation Order 2016 and the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act 2018, which contain those powers already; hence they are not in the Bill.
I will pause and say a word or two about general aviation because my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay made a particularly inspiring speech. I pay tribute to the work he has done on the all-party parliamentary group on general aviation. He spoke vividly about STEM, which is massively important for us. It was an outstanding speech, and I would really like another debate to respond to that alone—perhaps another time. It is safe to say for now that we want the UK to be the best place in the world for aviation, and that very much starts at the grassroots.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park asked me about privacy and why it is not in the Bill. It is already taken into account in a number of areas such as the Data Protection Act 2018 and the general data protection regulation, but in this sphere the implementing regulation requires all operators who have a sensor able to capture personal data to be registered. I hope that that provides her with some reassurance. She also asked about new offences and keeping the ability to regulate as drone technology increases. Of course, we keep that under review. There is power in the Civil Aviation Act 1982 that enables us to make air navigation orders to address precisely that point.
I thank the House for listening to me for a little longer than usual while I addressed those specific points. The Bill will support the modernisation of our airspace and the air traffic licensing framework, provide alleviation from the 80/20 rule I have referred to and provide enforcement powers to help the police tackle the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft. I look forward enormously to working with hon. Members across the House to ensure that this important legislation reaches the statute book shortly. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill [Lords] (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill [Lords]:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 23 February 2021.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which they are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(David Rutley.)
Question agreed to.
Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill [Lords] (Ways and Means)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.—(David Rutley.)
Question agreed to.