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Comet Aircraft (Tests)

Volume 529: debated on Monday 5 July 1954

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44.

asked the Minister of Supply what progress has been made in the Comet tests undertaken by his Department.

47.

asked the Attorney-General what results have so far been achieved in the technical investigations into the causes of the recent disasters to the British Overseas Airways Corporation's Comet jetliners.

I will, with permission, answer together Question No. 44 and Question No. 47, to which I have been asked to reply.

The technical examination of the Comet by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough is making good progress. The wreckage recovered from the sea near Elba has been most thoroughly examined; and an extensive programme of trial flights and experiments has been carried out on Comet aircraft withdrawn from service. In particular, the wings, tail and main structure have been tested for metal fatigue and for possible weaknesses; the strength of the pressurised cabin has been exhaustively tested; and trials have been carried out to discover whether excessive pressure might have been built up in the tanks through the use of high pressure fuel pumps. These and other tests are still proceeding. It would, therefore, be premature to announce the results obtained.

When the investigations are completed, all information will be submitted to the Court of Inquiry. Meanwhile, the manufacturers are being kept fully informed so that they may consider what modifications may be necessary.

Has the right hon. Gentleman any idea when the tests are likely to be completed and when everybody will know where they are? Secondly, has anything been shown so far, as a result of these tests, which is likely to dispel the right hon. Gentleman's hope, which I think he expressed in the House a little time ago, that the manufacture of these planes might perhaps be resumed before very long?

First of all, dealing with how long these investigations will continue, I think my answer must be that I am hopeful that it will not be many weeks more; how many weeks I am not prepared to say. As I explained in my reply, these investigations are still going on and I would, therefore, prefer not to speculate in any way about the results which may emerge; but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that nothing has happened and nothing has emerged which makes me more pessimistic or less optimistic than I have expressed myself to be on any previous occasion.

When the final conclusions are reached, will the Minister so inform the House?

In view of the report which the Minister has given, would he try to make it possible to find alternative work for the people who are being displaced as a result of this trouble, especially in Northern Ireland? Instead of allowing them to become unemployed and breaking up an efficient team, would it not be a good idea to try to find temporary work for them and not allow them to become unemployed?

The best thing we can do, in the first place, is to press ahead with these investigations.

In view of the very serious effect on unemployment in Northern Ireland owing to the suspension of work on the Comet, is my right hon. Friend aware that nowhere would an early statement be more welcome than in Belfast, particularly in East Belfast?

As the Minister has been good enough to give some indication of the various forms which the inquiry has taken, could he say whether the Royal Aircraft Establishment is making any inquiries into the allegation which I saw in the Press, suggesting that the stalling speed of the Comet is much greater near the ground than it is when it is high up?

I could not answer that. The accidents happened high up, and not near the ground.

Has the right hon. Gentleman made any efforts, in association with his right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour, to deal with the very great problem of employment in Northern Ireland which has resulted from the Comet troubles?

I am not running away. I was about to say that I have been looking at this matter very closely. We have been doing everything we can, but it has not been at all easy to find additional work, which might be only temporary, for an aircraft factory at short notice.