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Fog Dispersal System

Volume 481: debated on Wednesday 29 November 1950

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asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation to what extent fog investigation dispersal operation is available at Manston for civilian aircraft including those owned by chartered companies; and to whom the cost of operating it is charged.

The fog dispersal system at Manston is available 24 hours a day to all civil aircraft. The cost of operating it is charged to public funds unless a subsequent investigation of a particular incident shows that use of the system could have been avoided by sound planning or airmanship, when the aircraft operator is liable to bear the full cost.

Can the Minister give an assurance that under no conditions whatever will the pilot be charged with the cost, in view of the fact that it would take three-quarters of his annual salary?

There is no question of the pilot being charged as far as we are concerned.

Is the hon. Gentleman quite satisfied that even though the pilot himself is not likely to have to bear the cost nevertheless the fact that the costs might, in certain circumstances, fall upon his company may act unduly as a deterrent to him in using the system?

Are these facts well known to the charter companies and other independent operators?

Even though there may not be any evidence, will the hon. Gentleman take action to ensure that this situation does not arise, because it would be very dangerous?

In ordinary circumstances it is our policy to make available alternate landing grounds or airfields. As far as I know there has been no occasion at all when all airfields have been out of operation.


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation if he will give an estimate of what savings in the installation of a fog investigation dispersal operations equipment at London Airport could be made by utilising work already done, but never completed, on the earlier installation there.

No, Sir. The possibility was investigated in 1947, but it was decided that no part of the work done under the war-time contract could be used in view of subsequent F.I.D.O. developments and the almost complete change of layout necessary to convert the R.A.F. aerodrome, Heathrow, to the civil aerodrome now known as London Airport.

How much money has been wasted on the earlier work on this installation, which will never be used?

I should not like to say that any money has been wasted, but there is a Question about cost later on the Order Paper.


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation if, in view, of the confidence it gives to passengers, he will immediately order the installation of a fog investigation dispersal operations system at London Airport to be in operation by the winter of 1951.

Would not the Parliamentary Secretary reconsider this matter? There is great anxiety in the country that we should be able to carry on our normal operations at normal aerodromes under the special conditions which occur in the winter. The Minister himself said, in answer to a previous Question, that there have been developments in the F.I.D.O system since the original type was installed.

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman wants me immediately to order the operation of a technically obsolete and financially expensive system, or whether he wants me to put into immediate operation a system which is not yet fully developed. In either case I should not have thought the suggestion was backed entirely by a sense of responsibility.

While entirely repudiating, from our side, the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman in his answer, may I ask him whether he will at least bring to the attention of his noble Friend the desirability of so planning the experiment and his consideration of whether finally to install the new system so that it may be properly planned and a decision taken to bring it into operation before we are again overtaken by the fog season of next year?

The right hon. Gentleman can take it that whatever we do will be properly planned.

Are we to assume from the previous answer that the Minister considers the whole of the F.I.D.O. installation as being technically obsolete?

I am saying that the system which is now in operation is technically obsolete. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it would be wrong immediately to order the installation of a system which we think we can improve upon.


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation on how many days in any convenient recent year the weather at London Airport was such that fog investigation disposal operations, if installed, would have been useful; and what was the aggregate number of aircraft scheduled to land there on those days which were in fact prevented from doing so.

For reasons which I am explaining to the hon. and gallant Member by letter it is not practicable to give a realistic answer to this Question.

While I appreciate the letter which I have received from the Parliamentary Secretary, might I ask if an assessment of the weather conditions during a certain year could be made, even if only a brief summary, in order that an indication might be given to the House of the need for this F.I.D.O. installation?

The hon. and gallant Gentleman will appreciate the difficulties of making an assessment. However, I have the total number of diversions for all reasons in a recent period of 12 months. Out of a total of 107, 91 were due to different types of bad weather.

Can my hon. Friend say what will become of all this planning and equipment for the national benefit if ever, unfortunately, the Opposition have their way and abolish the Ministry of Civil Aviation?


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation what have been the costs of operation of the fog investigation dispersal operation installations at Blackbushe and Manston, respectively.

The cost of war-time capital works services and of post-war reconditioning of the F.I.D.O. installation at Blackbushe amounted, in all, to approximately £170,000. In addition, over the period of about one year, during which the installation was available for use, expenditure of about £3,500 was incurred on maintenance labour and supervision and £1,750 on petrol used for the one take-off during the period. Manston aerodrome is a responsibility of the Secretary of State for Air.

Has the Parliamentary Secretary made himself conversant with the respective costs of operation per hour of these two systems? If the Blackbushe apparatus was cheaper than the Manston, why was it not retained, and if the Manston was cheaper, why was it not installed at Blackbushe?

Both systems are the same. It was felt that one installation was sufficient.

But is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the Manston equipment is on one of the big war-time rescue aerodromes, where the aerodrome and also the F.I.D.O. installation were on a much larger scale than at Blackbushe, and, therefore, were much more expensive to operate?

If it is more expensive to operate the installation at Manston than it was at Blackbushe, on the basis of a figure of £1,750 for one operation it is a fairly expensive installation, and I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman pressing the idea.


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation what instructions are available to airline captains, giving the procedure for requesting fog investigation dispersal operations aid for landing in fog.

Instructions are available in Chapter 8 of the air traffic control section of the "United Kingdom Air Pilot."

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether this is available to all airline captains, including foreigners, and would he give an assurance that if an airline captain makes a request for the use of F.I.D.O., this will not be queried by the ground control?

In reply to the second part of the supplementary question, the answer is, yes. As far as the first part is concerned, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, it is generally the responsibility of the operator to have the information placed at the disposal of each of his pilots.


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation what replies he has received from the airline operators in reply to his questions on whether or not they would like fog investigation dispersal operations to be available at London Airport.

It is too early to expect considered replies from all the operators whose views were asked on this difficult question.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary say from how many operators he has received a request so far?


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation if, in view of the fact that the possibility of having to pay approximately £500 for the use of the fog investigation dispersal operations aid may influence the pilot in emergency to take unwarranted risks, he will suspend this charge pending the publication of the results of a recent accident investigation.

Does not the Minister agree that it seems a very wrong attitude to take up when it is only a question of a few weeks or a month before the situation will be clear? Will he look into this again?

A pilot who has planned his flight soundly, and exercises good airmanship, can rest assured that no charge will be incurred.