Plane ignorant

Bryan DaviesBryan Davies on Ministers' reluctance to deal properly with aviation’s impact on the environment

The Civil Aviation Bill is in many respects a broadly consensual measure, having its origins in work done under the last Labour government. It modernises the regulatory framework for civil aviation chiefly through reforms to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Labour has worked constructively as the Opposition to improve the Bill and obliged the government to respond to pressure by introducing their own amendments and by organising sessions where we have been able to question officials on aspects of the Bill. We have pressed the case for airport operators to be required to produce passenger welfare plans – an attempt to address real shortcomings in the treatment of many passengers during the severe weather of two years ago. We also obliged the government to give assurances that the CAA would have an additional duty to consider the welfare of disabled passengers. 

Another area we have pressed is security, where the government has gone some way to answering our questions on the 'outcomes-focussed risk-based regime'. But we remain concerned about the potential loss of expertise, as some specialist staff, at present employees of the Transport Department, may be reluctant to transfer to the CAA. 

However, the main issue of conflict is the impact of aviation on the environment. Without considerable effort from the industry, the regulator and the government working together, it is clear that aviation’s contribution to climate change will significantly increase. We pressed this issue repeatedly at the Committee stage of the Bill to ensure that the CAA has the power and large airports have the responsibility to reduce carbon emissions. This will be the major area of our challenge to the government in the first Report stage debates today. 

It is frankly incredible that Ministers continue to refuse to recommit to the emission reduction targets for aviation that Labour set in government, and to which even the industry itself is committed. Similarly, it is disappointing that Ministers have so far not accepted the recommendation of The Committee on Climate Change to include our share of emission from international aviation in future Carbon Budgets. 

We have made clear that if the conclusions reached by the newly established independent commission on aviation, let by Sir Howard Davies, are to stand any prospect of becoming a reality then they must be deliverable within these strict limits. As we have seen in the past week with the appalling impact of tropical storm Sandy, the threat from our changing climate is severe. Events of this kind may occur with greater frequency unless global warming is confronted. Yet the government appears to be relying on reduced economic activity to allay fears that its carbon targets will not be met. In contrast, Labour is clear that all areas of policy, transport included, must place the importance of tackling climate change at their heart. 

Ministers’ unwillingness to strengthen the powers of the CAA as the regulator in the crucial area of protecting the environment undermines David Cameron’s promise to be the “greenest government ever”. We are hopeful that today Peers across the House will join us when we press crucial amendments to the vote. 

Lord Bryan Davies is Labour’s Shadow Transport Minister in the Lords

Published 7th November 2012


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