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Low Flying

Volume 893: debated on Friday 13 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence what steps are being taken to improve flight safety within the United Kingdom low-flying system as a result of the fatal collision which occurred last August between a RAF Phantom aircraft and a Piper Pawnee aircraft engaged in crop spraying.

It is a testimony to the effectiveness of the existing safety procedures and the skill of the aircrew that this was the first ever collision between a military and a civil aircraft within the low-flying system. Nevertheless, I considered it necessary, without seeking to prejudge the findings of the accident investigation, to institute a general review of the arrangements governing this type of flying, and as a result we are now introducing certain new measures.The main essential is to improve liaison with civil pilots who need to fly at low level. We are, therefore, initiating a new procedure under which civil pilots intending to operate at heights of 500 ft. or less above ground level will be invited to give advance notification to the military air traffic control authorities, including those at nominated RAF stations. This information will then be included in the pre-flight briefing of military pilots which already covers other types of potential hazard. Details of the procedures are being promulgated by means of a notice to airmen. The new procedure will be brought into effect on 17th July and will be subject to review after a trial period of 12 months.As it will be a voluntary system its success will naturally depend on the willing co-operation of civil operators. At the same time RAF flying stations will be liaising with civil operators and flying clubs in the general neighbourhood in order to explain the new arrangements and, where possible, warn them of any unusual military activity such as special exercises.As a further measure I have decided that in future no low-level training will be undertaken at weekends unless there is advance notification to the contrary through the medium of a notice to airmen. This will give civil pilots a positive assurance of clear airspace for a specified period. It will also be of benefit to the general public, though I should stress that it will not apply to training which is undertaken in the immediate vicinity of some airfields.Finally, we are considering the feasibility of making military aircraft more conspicuous. One of the basic problems here is that the aircraft must retain their camouflage for operational reasons, but we are urgently examining the possibility of fitting an improved type of light. In addition, there will be consultation with the representatives of civil aviation interests to see whether any measures of this kind would be possible in the case of civil aircraft.Given the co-operation of the civil users I believe that these measures will make a significant contribution to flight safety, though we must continue to keep the situation under review.