HC Deb 25 February 1926 vol 192 cc773-5

I pass at once to the question of Empire air communications, a question which is just as important upon the military side as upon the civil side, for, obviously, if we can develop over the Empire a system of air communications, it will make it much easier to develop a more mobile Empire defence, a subject upon which I ventured to speak at some length in my Estimates speech of last year. Upon the civil side, it seems to me that the development of Empire air communications should be the very basis of our civil flying policy. As far as the military side of the question goes, we have carried out during the last 12 months one remarkable long-distance flight within the Empire, and we propose to carry out more flights in the immediate future and in the 12 months 1926–27.

The flight that we carried out in the autumn was a flight from Cairo to Nigeria, a flight carried out by one of the units on the spot in Egypt, without any special preparations and with ordinary service machines. The flight was over some very difficult country, a distance of 6,268 miles, and it was completed without any mishap of any kind in 80 flying hours. From the flying point of view, it was an unqualified success, hut I am informed that from the political point of view, the broader Empire point of view, it was just as great a success. The amount of interest that was taken in it over this route between Egypt and Nigeria is almost incredible. Hundreds of thousands of natives gathered to see the arrival of the machines, and Emirs in considerable numbers were taken up for joy-rides, some of them with so many clothes that the pilots had to tie rope round them for fear of some of the articles falling off into the tailplane. One of them, after he had got into the aeroplane, became so nervous that he lay on his face for the whole period of the flight, and when he was safely deposited upon the aerodrome, at the end of the flight, he could not believe that he had been up in the air at all. The pilots were generally addressed as "bird-masters." One of the Emirs said to one of them that "the English had brought trains, then motor cars, and then the wind train, and there was only Allah left to see." The flight showed that it was possible to bring Nigeria and Egypt within a week by air, whereas by motor car it would have taken a month, and by primitive native transport more than six months.

We propose to continue these Empire flights during the next 12 months, and next week there is to begin another service flight from Cairo to Cape Town, to be carried out by four Fairey 3D machines, with Napier Lion engines, over a distance of 5,289 miles. This flight, again, is to be carried out as an ordinary service exercise with a number of machines flying in formation. It is important from the serivce point of view, but important also from the point of view that it is blazing the trail of future Imperial air routes. Then, in the ensuing year, we propose to carry out a long distance flight with service flying boats. There has been a marked development with flying boats in recent times. I, myself, had the pleasure of making a flight in one of them over the North Sea last year, and we intend during next year to make a long-distance flying boat flight with a formation of flying boats, probably to Egypt. I quote these instances to show the House how important upon the military side are these long-distance flights, and how important they are also from the point of view of laying the foundations for future civil Empire air routes.

Now I come to the civil policy. Upon the civil side, we hope, during the next 12 months, to make a definite start with the aeroplane route to India. I have kept hon. Members informed as to the progress of the negotiations for the start of an aeroplane route to India, and not later than next January the first section of this route will actually be started, between Egypt and Karachi. An important point for the House to note to-day is that the route will be started with the most up-to-date machines that can possibly be obtained—up-to-date machines with three engines. Hon. Members who know anything of that route will realise the importance of starting it with machines and engines that will not run the risk of a forced landing, and I have every hope that, not only will this section of the route be started satisfactorily next year, but that it will stimulate so great a demand for extensions of it that at no distant date we shall have a through aeroplane route, not only from Egypt to India, but from London to India, and possibly, when we have got to India, to Rangoon and even to Singapore. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah, Singapore!"] No, I have no military objective in mind when I speak of a possible extension of the India route, and I feel—and I think hon. Members opposite will agree with this—that the longer an aeroplane route is to be extended, the greater is the advantage over other means of transport, and the more likely it is, therefore, to succeed.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Why not go on to Sydney, to Australia?

5.0 P.M.


I should hope eventually to go on to Australia as well, but that question brings me to the other side of the civil Empire air route question.

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