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Civil Aviation

Volume 481: debated on Wednesday 29 November 1950

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Passengers (Insurance)

1.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation if he will permit the erection of automatic slot machines in the passenger buildings of aerodromes in the United Kingdom so that passengers can conveniently insure themselves against accident and death on any particular flight.

Yes, Sir; a scheme on these lines is at present being worked out.

Does the Government refuse to pay any compensation whatever to the next-of-kin of those who are killed in accidents?

Auxiliary Transport Squadrons

2.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation what steps he is taking to ensure that charter companies forming auxiliary transport squadrons will be given the opportunity of tendering for the transport of Government and public corporation servants and their families.

No special steps should be necessary as the charter companies in question would be among those normally invited to tender for charter contracts for the transport of Government servants and their families. Contractual arrangements made by the public corporations for transport are a matter of management for those corporations.

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that unless these charter companies have fair opportunities of obtaining business in peace-time they will not be there to form auxiliary transport squadrons in an emergency?

Can the Parliamentary Secretary assure us that the charter companies have absolutely equal terms on which to compete with the corporations in this kind of business?

Fog Dispersal System

4.

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.

5.

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.

8.

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.

9.

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?

10.

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.

11.

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.

13.

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?

14.

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.

Bad Weather Landings

6.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation if he will give an assurance that the terms of reference of the recently appointed Brabazon Committee include the consideration of whether flying control officers should be given the power to close an aerodrome when, in their view, the weather has detriorated below the minimum safe conditions.

Yes, Sir. The terms of reference of the Lord Brabazon inquiry are:

"To conduct an investigation into the relative responsibilities of the pilots of aircraft and the aerodrome authorities in relation to landings in bad weather."

Will the Minister bring to the notice of the Brabazon Committee the fact that Great Britain is at the moment the only country which does not lay down a minimum visibility limit below which an airfield is closed except in emergency?

Helicopter Service, Wales

7.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation whether British European Airways Corporation will maintain the present Welsh helicopter service and extend it to Bangor amongst other places.

The helicopter cannot yet be regarded as a fully developed medium of commercial air transport. The Welsh service was an experiment, to obtain, under particular conditions of operation, information essential to further development. By next spring the helicopter development programme will probably require that routes with different characteristics should be explored. The possibility of retaining the Welsh service with fixed wing aircraft will be further considered when it is known whether the application now before the Air Transport Advisory Council, of a charter company to operate the route under associate agreement with British European Airways Corporation, has been successful.

Can the hon. Gentleman give the House a guarantee that the existing service will not be abandoned until a commercial rather than an experimental helicopter has been put into service?

It is not within my power to give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee. If I may, I would suggest, in return, that the hon. Gentleman guarantees that whatever service is instituted there, will be patronised.

Can the Parliamentary Secretary say whether British European Airways have considered the possibility of extending this service between Wales and London as a further experiment?

That service has been considered, but it is not a feasible proposition at the moment.

Four-Engined Aircraft

12.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation how many civil four-engined transport aircraft he could call upon for an emergency airlift without interrupting the scheduled air services operated by the British Overseas Airways Corporation; and how many of these could be provided by private charter operators.

There are 62 four-engined aircraft owned by Ministry of Civil Aviation or British Overseas Airways Corporation awaiting disposal which could be used for the purpose referred to without interrupting scheduled services. In addition, it is understood that 11 four-engined aircraft are in current operation with charter companies, apart from a number which do not have current certificates of airworthiness.

Is the Minister satisfied that this number is adequate for the national safety and that the private charter operators are being given sufficient opportunity to enable them to contribute to this service in an emergency?

The private charter operators, we would naturally expect, to be only too ready to co-operate in an emergency. As regards the total number available, quite clearly, in an emergency, a number of those aircraft now used on scheduled services would be employed for other purposes.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary assure us that he will not dispose of the four-engined aircraft—he used the word "dispose"—to overseas companies? Otherwise, they will not be available for an emergency. Can we have an answer?

Airports, Wales

15.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation what aerodromes are maintained at national expense in Wales.

There is one civil aerodrome maintained at State expense in Wales—namely, Cardiff Airport.

16.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation what facilities are there for overseas services in Wales.

There are designated Customs airports in Wales at Cardiff and Valley (Anglesey).

Princess Flying-Boat

17.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation when he expects the Princess flying-boat to be coming into service; and what arrangements he has made to keep the bases and expert men that this aircraft will require.

Present indications are that the Princess flying-boat should be ready for service in 1953. Southampton Marine Airport (Berth 50) is being kept by my Department on a care and maintenance basis, whilst such existing marine equipment and facilities as are considered suitable for the Princess are being preserved. The British Overseas Airways Corporation are similarly maintaining their Hythe base, and are retaining a nucleus of staff with experience of flying-boat operations.

Is the base for this flying-boat likely to be moved from Hythe to Calshot?

Will not these flying-boats be flying long before 1953—next year, in fact, if their engines are ready?

In that case, of course, they would not necessarily be wanting an international airport. Other water is available for them.

United States (Airworthiness Certificates)

18.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation if he will make a statement regarding negotiations with the United States Government in connection with the recognition of British airworthiness certificates, particularly on aircraft fitted with gas turbine engines.

Under the agreement made in 1934, to which I referred the hon. and gallant Gentleman on 10th May, the United States authorities prescribed a large number of additional requirements in relation to the British civil airworthiness requirements of 1948, but, as a result of recent discussions, most of these additional requirements were withdrawn and those that remained were acceptable to the United Kingdom authorities. The United States authorities have now notified us, however, that they do not regard the agreement in relation to the withdrawal of the United States additional requirements as extending to turbine-engined aircraft. The measures necessary to secure the removal of this reservation are being pursued with the United States authorities.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary take up with the United States authorities the question of why, if they are prepared to accept British military jet turbines, for which they have not paid anything, they will not recognise British civil jet machines, for which we are likely to get some foreign trade? Will the hon. Gentleman press this matter very hard?

London Airport (Staff Employment)

19.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation whether, in view of the unofficial strike at London Airport, he will give an assurance that His Majesty's Government will abide by the pledge which he gave regarding the employment of ex-British South American Airways personnel at the time of the merger with the British Overseas Airways Corporation.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary assure the House that the Government will continue to give their fullest support in this first case of a nationalised industry's stand against the principle of the closed shop for a trade union?

In view of the serious nature of the dispute and its consequences if it develops—the Press states that medical supplies to Korea are already being held up—is the Parliamentary Secretary in the closest contact with the Ministry of Labour to try to settle this matter and maintain our air services?

The negotiations on the one hand have been conducted by the British Overseas Airways Corporation. It is their responsibility, and in this matter they have our fullest support.

Surely responsibility also rests on the Ministry of Labour. Is not the Minister in contact with the Ministry of Labour in this matter?

We are in contact with them, naturally, but if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to put down a Question about the activities of the Ministry of Labour he should address it to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.

In view of the monosyllabic brevity of his answers, will the Parliamentary Secretary take all possible steps to call to the attention of those concerned in the present strike the intentions of the Government to try to get it settled as soon as possible?