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RAF Red Arrows

Volume 774: debated on Tuesday 13 September 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will review the role of the RAF Red Arrows Aerobatic Team at future Farnborough airshows so that they continue to perform aerobatics rather than just a flypast.

My Lords, regrettably, in view of the densely populated area surrounding Farnborough Airport, the RAF decided that the Red Arrows highly complex displays can no longer be conducted there. It therefore has no plans to review the role of the Red Arrows at Farnborough International Airshow. The safety of the public has to be the priority.

My Lords, does the Minister recollect other statistics such as that the number of people killed on the roads is 1,732, on the railways it is 39, and in air accidents it is 16? For well over 50 years at the Farnborough International Airshow, not a single civilian has been killed from any aerial activity. Is this not an overreaction, possibly to Shoreham? Surely it is possible for the authorities running this famous air show, alongside the RAF, to produce a dynamic aerobatic display? It could be modified in the light of the risk analysis, but to have no display diminishes what is at the moment the number one air show in the world, which is absolutely vital to Her Majesty’s aerobatic exports.

My Lords, I share my noble friend’s disappointment at the decision but there is no doubt that, following the accident at Shoreham, the safety of the public at and near air shows has come into sharper focus. Following Civil Aviation Authority and Military Aviation Authority changes and amplifications to air display regulations, the Chief of the Air Staff made the judgment that the potential risks to air crew, spectators and other members of the public in the surrounding area were no longer acceptable. As the legally accountable person, the Chief of the Air Staff has to be respected in his decision.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a resident of Crondall, which is on the flight path into Farnborough and where the Chinooks line up for RAF Odiham. Great concern has arisen after Shoreham about the difficult manoeuvres of the Red Arrows. By the way, it is not true that there has never been an accident at Farnborough, although not in the past 50 years. I was at the air show in 1952 when around 30 people were killed when John Derry’s aeroplane crashed and the engine fell into the crowd. Is it not the case that we need to bear in mind that while the flypast by the Red Arrows is highly appreciated, the decision on this is quite logical?

I am grateful to the noble Lord. If one looks at the map of Farnborough and the surrounding area, it is easy to see how densely populated it now is. It simply is not possible to conduct a Red Arrows display without significant overflight of Farnborough, Camberley and Fleet. As I have explained, the decision has been taken by the Chief of the Air Staff that the potential risk to life from display flying over those areas, which I am afraid is inevitable given the extreme air manoeuvres that the Red Arrows undertake, could not be tolerated.

My Lords, the decision about Farnborough whereby it is allowed to show formation flypasts but not formation aerobatics, would indicate that perhaps formation aerobatics carry some measure of risk. Can the noble Earl confirm that in making any decision about flights by the Red Arrows, there is never any question that there is a risk in their performance? If it is necessary to make a decision not to participate, would it not be better if the Red Arrows did not appear? It seems to me that an aerobatic team which does not perform aerobatics is of little use to the RAF or to the country.

My Lords, I would not wish to give the House the impression that the decision taken in relation to Farnborough will apply to every other air show because each event is assessed on a case-by-case basis. There will be many shows and other events where the Red Arrows will continue to perform with an acceptable degree of risk, but that risk always exists and safety must remain the paramount consideration at all times. I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble and gallant Lord about the Red Arrows remaining at Farnborough and performing a flypast. I think that the flypast was appreciated, as was the static display on the ground.

My Lords, we are all justifiably proud of the Red Arrows. They train for eight months of the year in order to perform and they are part of the RAF events team. Can the Minister please tell the House what is the annual cost of the RAF events team and the justification for that cost in the light of the severe reductions in our Armed Forces personnel?

I thought I detected in that question some scepticism as to the value of the Red Arrows. Frankly, I am surprised by that because they are fantastic global ambassadors for the United Kingdom. They promote the best of Britain and represent the speed, agility and precision of the Royal Air Force. They showcase the professionalism of our Armed Forces very well. I will write to the noble Lord with the figure that he seeks. It is not as easy for me to quote a figure as perhaps some might think.

If we continue to delay decisions at Gatwick and Heathrow, will we not be forced to make more use of Farnborough anyway?

My Lords, over more than 50 years the Red Arrows have flown almost 5,000 displays around the world. They have been used to recruit to our Armed Forces and they have acted as ambassadors for Britain. I read the statement from the Minister’s department about why it was thought that the traditional high-speed display was not appropriate at Farnborough and they performed a flypast instead. In response to an earlier question, the Minister said that in future we will look at these displays on a case-by-case basis. I hope we will because in the last figure I have, the cost of the display team is £6.1 million. That is a lot of money to spend on an occasional flypast.

My Lords, the off-the-cuff figure for the cost of the Red Arrows in my brief is £9.7 million but there is a charge-out to event organisers in some cases. I will come back to the noble Lord on the precise figure.