HC Deb 14 February 1947 vol 433 cc729-49

2.15 p.m.

Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

am sure I shall have the sympathetic attention of the whole House when I direct attention to the need for providing adequate safety measures in civil aviation. I do this with a sense of urgency because of the recent disasters to civil aircraft, but this urgency is enforced, because it seems to me that the problem is being disguised at the moment by necessary concentration on other factors. In saying that, I must, at the same time, pay a tribute to the splendid work that has been done by the Ministry of Civil Aviation in the provision of ground control and navigational aids; in the training and equipment of pilots and crews, and in the supply of engines of high efficiency and reliability. In all these spheres the Ministry has made a notable contribution to safe air travel.

But as I see the position, these aids do not face up to the real problem, which is to provide adequate security for the passengers in the event of accident. That is not so today. When we realise that the modern aeroplane is a combination of man and mechanism, both of which are liable to error, and that the modern power unit is a complex mass of nearly 16,000 bits and pieces designed to maintain 2,000 revolutions per minute, we begin to appreciate something of the risk we take every time we enter a plane. To each one of those bits of mechanism, liable to error, we commit our safety in every journey. We must accept the fact that accidents will happen, and we must seek and secure the aerodynamic formula which will provide the passenger, in the event of accident, with built-in crash survivability in the airframe of the machine, with low speed landing and lower take-off as a consequence, lower wing loading and lift sustaining devices. The question is whether that can be done.

Just before entering the Chamber this afternoon, I received two articles from a journal of great repute in the world of aviation, the "Journal of Commerce and Shipping Telegraph." As copies were handed to me only in the Lobby, because of the interest that has been excited in technical circles by this Debate, I am not able to quote from them at the moment, but I gather that the trend of both those articles sustains the proposition which I am trying to present to the House. In addition, the road which I want to follow is the one on which we have already started. The two Royal Vikings, which are accompanying, at this moment, their Majesties, in their South Africa tour carry in their structure the principle of crash survivability, which I am advocating for commercial craft. I do not say that they embody that principle completely, but the next step is up to our designers and constructors. What is the real difficulty that faces us? It is not lack of ability to find the aerodynamic formula. It is that civil aviation is nurtured in military aviation.

Military aviation must take risks; civil aviation should not. Military aviation is always reaching for greater and greater speed; civil aviation should reach for greater and greater safety for passengers and crews. The military plane must seek to carry its load from one point to another as quickly as possible—quicker than any competitor can do—and, therefore, because of that, we are today passing to the jet-propelled machine, now coming off the drawing board, soon to go into production, and then into use, to hurtle its living cargo with gun muzzle speed through the substratosphere, at 50,000 feet in pressurised and sealed "coffins" I use that word advisedly.

Let one little flaw develop in that death trap carrying crew and passengers— passengers ignorant of their danger—and death becomes the instant companion of every individual in that fragile egg. To avoid that fate, the pilot must dive forthwith from the substratosphere to the atmosphere. In so doing, he compels the machine to consume three or four times more fuel in the atmosphere than was necessary in the substratosphere, and by avoiding death at the higher altitude, he is forced to court it at the lower altitude. That is not a fanciful picture. My hon. Friend may not see it with my eyes, but I know that he appreciates, in the most sympathetic way, the problem which I am trying to present. Therefore, I ask him with all respect to bring to the notice of his noble Friend the suggestions which I have made. Further, I would ask him to approach P.I.C.A.O. to try and reach an international understanding, for, in the long run, we are facing not a national problem, but an international one, and, therefore, it is necessary to reach an international understanding on this question of air safety and the methods of obtaining it.

The two most deadly contenders today in this mad struggle for increasing speed are Britain and the United States of America. Surely, we, who have drawn so closely together in friendship and understanding in other spheres, are not to be drawn against one another in this destructive race for speed supremacy. If my hon. Friend and his noble Friend should conclude that P.I.C.A.O. is not strong enough to forward the proposals they make I hope on the lines which I have indicated, then I would say to my hon. Friend: Let this nation set the lead. It has lead the world in many great causes. Wrapped up, as my hon. Friend well knows, in all that I have said is the need to develop aviation for peaceful and not warlike ends, as is being done at the moment.

This morning, to reinforce what I am saying, comes the news of further tragedy, and again that terrible statement in the Press, "There are no survivors." The modern air machine, due to its design and structure, is a lethal weapon, and no one in this House would willingly commit his child to it. During this week, the South African Council of Civil Aviation have banned all children under 16 from traveling in any of their aircraft. Once, in this House sat Samuel Plimsoll, and I seek in no way to suggest to hon. Members any parallel between myself and that great man. He condemned the coffin ships that sailed the seas in his day. Today I condemn the coffin ships that sail the air in my time. Plimsoll demanded safety for those who go down to the sea in ships. He got it. I ask it for those who go into the air.

Mr. Austin (Stretford)

My hon. Friend has made repeated reference to the safety factor, and what he called "crash survivability." That is a very mysterious phrase. Can he tell us what it means?

Mr. Rankin

I am glad that point has been put. I did not want to introduce too many technical aspects into this subject today, because I confess, quite readily, that I am not an expert. But I am one who is used to flying as a method of transit between this House and my home, and I hope to go on using it, but one feels that one can only do so if the safety principle is built into the structure of the machines. In view of the fact that I have been asked the question, perhaps I might be allowed to illustrate briefly what I mean by the principle of crash survivability.

When one enters an aeroplane one sits facing the cockpit, and a little strap is put round one's waist. That strap is to enable the passenger to resist a sudden impact. The human frame has a certain resistance. It can withstand impacts up to a certain mathematical value, which is about nine or ten times its own resistance. If the figure goes beyond 26 times the factor of human resistance, the human frame is shattered, as we can see in the pictures of disasters. In order to reinforce one s natural resistance, one is instructed to place one's feet upon the chair in front. I suggest that crash survivability can be increased if, instead of facing the cockpit, passengers started with their backs towards the engine. Everyone will realise that resistance is greater from the back than from the front.

Mr. Walkden (Doncaster)

Is not an experiment already being carried out and applied on those lines? I speak only with such knowledge as I have from about 2,000 miles of recent flying. I am certain that I have travelled with my back to the cockpit in a B.O.A.C. plane, and that I found it very comfortable. I hope that the experiment is a success.

Mr. Rankin

I indicated in the earlier part of my speech that the principle is incorporated in an aeroplane with the Royal party.

Mr. Walkden

It is a Dakota.

Mr. Rankin

We admit that the principle is on its way, but it has not yet been generally accepted. That is the point which I am making. In any case, it is only a partial step, and must be accompanied by low-speed landing, lower wing loading, and by lift sustaining devices. I hope I have indicated briefly what I mean by crash survivability.

I am making a demand for safety. Just as safety has been obtained for ships, so it must come for the air. The travelling public are the judges. They are demanding it today. We, the representatives in this House of the travelling public, must see to it that they get what they demand.

2.35 P.m.

Mr. Walkden (Doncaster)

I intervene only upon one aspect of this matter. The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) used quite a lot of technical phrases, such "crash survivability". I am sure he must know all about what they mean. Truthfully, I do not know what they mean. I hope the Minister will provide us with an answer when he replies. I am putting the point of view of the traveller, the customer. Those of us who like to use the air want to feel that the customer in civil aviation is always right in every sense. We want to go up and to come down at the proper scheduled times, not come down in advance of the schedule because something has gone wrong with the aircraft. I plead with the Minister to check very carefully the meteorological and forecasting organisation, in order to ascertain whether it is as advanced as we have a right to expect it to be, considering the present personnel and the equipment that we have. Having travelled a considerable distance in Dakotas, Ansons and other types of aeroplanes, I must say that travelling with the B.O.A.C. is happier, more comfortable and makes me more satisfied, so much, so that I ventured to take my wife on my last excursion, which I made to Czechoslovakia.

What is worrying me is whether we are able to give information to pilots and navigators about conditions prevailing at the landing place. We know we can start off all right but whether we can expect to reach journey's-end safely is a matter of considerable importance. I think there is something missing on the equipment side, in regard to this kind of information and to the link-up of the aircraft of the B.O.A.C. A few months ago I left Marseilles in a plane which obviously was not airworthy. After about 20 or 30 miles we were advised to wrap up in all the warm clothing we could, because something had gone wrong. About a quarter of an hour after leaving Marseilles the heating equipment failed, and we had a very uncomfortable journey. Everybody was sympathetic about it, but by the time we were able to get out again we were feeling like frozen mutton. That was the result of some neglect at the beginning of our journey.

A lot of our trouble arises out of a shortage of personnel at airports and stations overseas. If we are to maintain our reputation as one of the foremost nations in civil aviation we must not let that continue. Technicians, engineers and everybody necessary must be trained to attend to the efficiency of the plane and there must be some kind of check made at every stage. A few days ago, a plane departed for Southern Rhodesia, but unfortunately never got there, and a number of people were killed. I noticed that on that occasion a statement was made on behalf of the Minister repudiating responsibility and saying that it had nothing to do with us. I would like the Minister to look at that statement again, because when a passenger applies for a passage on a particular plane and that plane is full up, it is quite common for the passenger to be transferred to another company, maybe K.L.M., maybe the Czechoslovakian Airline, or any other company. I submit that there is a collective responsibility here. If I apply to B.O.A.C. for a passage and am eventually transferred to K.L.M. or Czech Airlines, it is our responsibility to see that those airlines are up to our standards of airworthiness, and fulfill all the conditions which we expect to obtain from B.O.A.C. planes. I do not claim to know a great deal of the technical aspects of the matter; I only know, as a passenger, what happens. There are many people like myself who will travel by plane because they feel it saves time, and in doing so they want comfort, security and certainty that they will not come down in a hurry instead of coming down quietly and slowly. I therefore beg the Minister to check up on the points I have raised, because I believe they are of considerable importance to passengers who may travel during the forthcoming months.

2.42 p.m

Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)

I only wish to intervene briefly in this Debate because it is a subject in which I have been keenly interested for many years. I held a pilot's A licence before the war and flew a few hundred hours, and I have also had experience, not of keeping aircraft in the air, but of keeping mechanical vehicles on the road, and so I hope that my remarks may be of value. I was very interested in the remarks of the hon. Gentleman opposite who used the term "crash survivability." I had not heard it applied to the human frame before, but I think it has an application in regard to the aircraft itself.

Mr. Rankin

Did the hon. and gallant Member say the aircrew? He does not exclude the crew?

Brigadier Prior-Palmer

No, I said the aircraft —I meant the crash survivability of the actual aircraft itself. Anybody who has been unfortunate enough to witness an aircraft crash cannot have failed to be horrified and impressed by the speed with which it bursts into flames. On many occasions a large number of the crew and passengers could have survived had that not occurred, and this question of burning is a very serious one indeed. I would like to know what is being done on this question of fire, and what is the real reason for the immediate conflagration which follows a crash. I am informed that it has very little to do with petrol. but is due to the heat of the engines and the oil and paint, which are giving off easily-combustible fumes. I think it has more to do with that than the carrying of petrol in tanks, and I would like to know what is the latest information on the subject.

From my experience of keeping tanks on the road, I am convinced that the whole crux of the problem of keeping aircraft in the air is the day-to-day ground maintenance. Many of these serious accidents have been due to neglect, through casualness, carelessness or possibly lack of staff and overwork, and however much people dislike the word I feel that there must be a certain amount of discipline in the day-to-day ground maintenance, because people's lives depend on it. I hope the Minister is making very searching inquiries into the programme of maintenance, and into the number of flying hours which engines and aircraft are called upon to perform before being taken in for a major overhaul. I believe that a large number of past crashes could have been avoided had there been more ground staff, and more amenities and facilities available for carrying out maintenance. I myself, in my flying before the war and since, have very often been horrified at the lack of facilities on the aerodromes on which I have landed.

I would also like to refer to another aspect of maintenance: the question of height maintenance on one or two engines, as the case may be, when one engine cuts out. I believe that no aircraft should be allowed to take off with a load greater than that with which it can maintain height, or even gain height, with one of its power units cut out. It is fairly simple to maintain height once it has been gained, but the danger period, as we all know—and we have all held our fingers crossed on these occasions—is during the take-off, when one knows quite well that if a single sparking plug misfires in the next 500 feet it is probably the end. It is vitally important that aircraft should be able to continue climbing when one of their power units has lit out. I hope we shall get an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary on that subject.

2.48 p.m.

Mr. Austin (Stretford)

I am sure the House is grateful to the hon. Member who initiated this Debate, for its subject is a matter of great concern particularly in view of the number of accidents which have unfortunately occurred not only in this country, but, perhaps it is safe to,-ay, almost all over the world. The fascinating phrase "crash survivability" used by the hon. Member puzzled me. As far as I know, with my limited experience of flying in civilian life and in Me Services, there is really no such thing. There might be ameliorative features, but from the point of view of insurance against crashes the best safeguard lies in having a competent pilot and crew and serviceable engines. Anything else is only incidental to the major precautions that can be taken. The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer), I am glad to note, touched on the factor that has perhaps caused more loss of life than anything else, namely, the vulnerability of aircraft to fire. While many people have been killed in aircraft crashes I think it is true to say that more have been killed by the conflagration that ensues when the aircraft hits the ground than by the actual crashes themselves. Perhaps it would be well if the Parliamentary Secretary would direct his attention, and that of his Department, to further and detailed research into this most difficult question.

There is in the minds of many who use air travel today an apprehension that in some degree we are not servicing our aircraft with all the devices possible in the same way as we did during the war for Service personnel. It was a known fact that men who risked their lives in aircraft during operations or during communications in the Forces had a great deal of peace of mind even though they were embarking on hazardous exploits and journeys, because they knew this country was pouring out its resources for safety devices in order to bring them back. However, rightly or wrongly, the impression is growing that we have sacrificed the use of some of those devices in the interests of economy. If that is so, I am puzzled because I submit that the safety of civilian personnel in peacetime is just as important as the safety and the survival of personnel in wartime.

To substantiate that, in winter time it became evident that the use of F.I.D.O. was absolutely essential for landing. There was a campaign last year to ask the Ministry to re-apply F.I.D.O., but it was without success. I feel that if lives have been lost owing to bad landings in conditions of fog, the blame must be laid directly at the door of the Ministry for not using F.I.D.O. again, despite the expense. Whatever the expense may have been, it would have been worth while had it saved the lives that were lost. Are, we making use of all the radar devices which were so well known to those who served in the Forces and flew? There was a variety of devices. They may have been expensive, but they are worth it if they save lives.

With regard to meteorology, I have heard more apprehension on this score than any other—that is, the failure of the meteorological services. Pilots themselves have complained from time to time—

Mr. Rankin

Does the hon. Member appreciate that in spite of all the navigational aids that the Ministry can possibly devise, if we still land at roo120 miles an hour, as we are doing, no ground control and no navigational aid will prevent disaster? That is where the problem lies—not with the devices.

Mr. Austin

I thank the hon. Member for his interjection. On the question of ground landing, I submit that it is purely a question for the pilot himself. In my experience, I have always had complete faith in the ability of the pilot. It is a matter for his judgment. He knows the performance of his plane, its range, cruising speed and landing speed, and accordingly I submit that it is purely a matter for the pilot. Otherwise, lack of confidence in the pilot who is responsible for the aircraft would be created. To revert to meteorological devices, there has been an uneasy disquiet in the minds of many that our meteorological devices have not been as efficient as during the war. That has been expressed not only by members of the public, but on occasions by the pilots themselves. Are these services fully manned?

My last point reverts to the question of the pilot as captain of the aircraft. During the week, the Parliamentary Secretary on a question relating to aircraft safety has asked, I believe, by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) whether the pilot was the captain of the aircraft, and he re-assured the right hon. Member that that was so. I hope that despite any pressure that may be put on the Parliamentary Secretary, he will in no circumstances budge in the direction of allowing flying control to direct a pilot whether or not to fly. Our pilots are given excellent training—second to none in the world—and on those grounds I want to see the picot supreme as captain of his aircraft, subject, of course, to the most exceptional circumstances. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will stand firm in this matter.

2.55 p.m.

Mr. Rees-Williams (Croydon, South)

I wish to say a few words because my constituency has had a very long association with civil aviation, probably the longest of any constituency represented in this House, and because I feel that the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) regarded this matter from rather too narrow an angle. I feel that so far as "crash-survivability," as he called it, is concerned, the ordinary passenger is more interested in his crash-survivability than in the plane's crash-survivability. Therefore, it is not merely—

Mr. Rankin

It is the crash-survivability as applied to the passenger.

Mr. Rees-Williams

Then we are at one on that. If that is so, he did not deal with all the possibilities that arise, because it seems to me, after some long flights both during the war and after, that the pilot is often put under great difficulties and it is not the fault of the aircraft should an accident happen. We have been talking about ordinary land planes. Take the question of the flying boats which go from here to the Far East. At times, one has to land on the Nile at night. Perhaps there is half a gale blowing from one side of the river and one is dodging in among the shipping, and feluccas and other native craft are playing "last across" as one comes down. As all the pilots say, it is a hazardous undertaking.

At Calcutta one has to take off from the Hooghly and hope to rise above a bridge. On one occasion when we took off we did not succeed in rising and we had to fall down under it we managed to get down in time, and had another run at it. That is because of the heat in the hot-weather season at Calcutta. There is not enough lift in the air and the plane cannot get up over the bridge. One feels, as a passenger, that these hazards are such that one has to have strong nerves, but after all civil aviation must cater for the normal nerves and even for the weak nerves as well, if it is to be a success. One need not go further than my constituency for further illustration. Any pilot will tell hon. Members that he is always very relieved when he gets out of Croydon airport and clears the houses. Sometimes coming in or out he does not clear the houses and he takes a chimney pot off, and that invariably leads to an irate letter to me—though I do not know why—from the householder. I pass such letters on to my hon. Friend. We have, therefore, to recognise that there are many ways in which this problem should be dealt with beyond the strengthening of the frame of the aircraft. We must give the pilots a reasonable chance to land, whether it is on the sea, on a river or on land, and not expect them to do miracles every time they come down.

I have a further point and it is one with reference to the recent fire at the Croydon airport. I do not wish to embarrass the Minister in any way, and if he feels it is a matter which is under inquiry, I understand and do not expect him to answer. As he will admit, I warned him on 30th October last that there was great danger in winter if the fire engines were left out of doors without cover. As we know, a certain part of the fire engines froze up during the exceptionally cold spell. The engine on duty could not be brought into play, and the fire brigade had to come from the town before the flames could be extinguished. I understand that this is a matter which has arisen because the Ministry could not get enough materials and labour to build a house for the engine. The Minister must press his claim in this matter. We cannot afford to have the safety of passengers, and their very lives, at stake, merely because there is difficulty in getting labour and materials to build a house for the fire engines.

Brigadier Prior-Palmer

Will the hon. Member agree that it is the whole practice on all aerodromes that the crash squad and fire engines stand by the whole time?

Mr. Rees-Williams

I understand that on this day some of the men were attending to the other plane. The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) will remember that one plane ran into another. The men were working on the other plane, but apart from those men the crew were standing by. Owing to the cold weather, the valves in one part of the engine froze up. That would not happen if the engine were properly housed in a warm building. I quite agree that the crew should stand by.

Brigadier Prior-Palmer

With the engine started?

Mr. Rees-Williams

Yes, with the engine started. I do not want to go into the technical details, but I am informed that it was not due to any neglect of that precaution that the engine was not brought into operation; it was a valve that froze up. May I conclude by saying that this question of safety is vitally important. Safety before speed is the ordinary passenger's desire.

3.3 p.m.

Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)

It is essential to get this matter into its right proportion. Those who talk of the incidence of air, accidents would do well to turn over the pages of the air "A.B.C." and they would see that there are thousands of flights taking place day and night. Only in the setting of that proportion can one appreciate how relatively few accidents there are. It is also important to realise that in flying one is defying the laws of gravity, and, as a consequence, accidents are bound to happen—

Mr. Rankin

My submission was that it is not a question of relativity in regard to accidents, but what happens when an accident takes place. That was the point of supreme importance to passengers in that particular plane.

Mr. Shepherd

I was just pointing out that in air travel we are defying the law of gravity by taking a machine which weighs 20 or 30 tons, into the air up to 500 or 5,000 feet. If the power which keeps it in a normal position in the air fails, one comes down in a fashion which one did not expect, and is faced with a problem of immense difficulty. In most cases an obstruction is struck while coming down, and an accident happens. We have the best aircraft in the world, but, because of these accidents, we are tending to lose sight of that fact. I have travelled on a number of different airlines, and I have found that our airlines give confidence to passengers. Among foreign travellers there is a profound belief in the safety of British airlines. Although I am not a supporter of the form of operation which the Government have chosen for our air services, I feel that the desire to serve, as expressed by the ground staffs and attendants at our airports, is something of which we may be proud.

There are two technical points upon which I would like information. The first refers to the policy of the Ministry with regard to the installation of ground approach systems. We hear a lot of rumours. We hear that this apparatus is to be moved to there, and that the Ministry are thinking of installing this or that system. No one seems to be quite sure what are the real intentions of the Ministry. I would be very pleased if the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply, would give us a definite idea of the Ministry's intentions. The second point is that a lot of people have been worried of late about the maintenance of Dakota aircraft, very largely because spares are not as freely available as they ought to be. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to say whether steps are being taken to make spares available. There is an uneasy feeling in the minds of passengers when they have the idea that there are parts of the engine which should have been replaced a thousand hours ago. I hope we shall be told what steps are being taken in that direction.

3.12 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Mr. Lindgren)

I am very glad to take the opportunity provided by this Debate to deal with the general question of safety in connection with civil aviation. I think it is a happy position for a Minister to be able to stand at this Box and to say that all parts of the House are in general agreement and on common ground about what should, be our policy for safety. I hope the House will forgive me if I make a personal reference which I think is relevant. As hon. Members know, my noble Friend and I have not been for very long at the Ministry of Civil Aviation. On the first day that we took office we had a conference, at the Minister's direction, to discuss and formulate policy and to consider what should be specially emphasised in regard to that policy. On the very first day my noble Friend decided that the confidence of the public in civil aviation depended upon safety. It was decided that the question of safety was to be dealt with irrespective of any economic consideration.

In a statement that was made shortly afterwards the Minister said that his policy was safety first, safety second and safety third, regularity of service, comfort an] speed, in that order of preference. In addition, it was decided that safety and regularity depended upon ground organisation. I was pleased, therefore, when emphasis was laid on the importance of ground organisation during this Debate. Perhaps it is only natural that some folk should think that the only thing that matters in the air is the aeroplane. In fact, whether the aeroplane gets into the air, remains in the air, and is able to get down from the air, depends much more upon the ground staff and ground facilities than it does upon the aircraft itself. The decision was to concentrate upon the ground organisation, the installation of radio and radar, and all the allied aids to assist bad weather flying. I am happy to be able to state, particularly as the point has been raised, that the Ministry's first priority is the provision, at the major airports in this country, of every known navigational aid to secure regularity and safety of operation

Brigadier Prior-Palmer

Including F.I.D.O.?

Mr. Lindgren

I will deal with F.I.D.0 separately. Not only do we intend to do that in this country, but we intend to use our powers and our influence in seeing that those aids are available at aerodromes in every part of the world. I think it will emphasise what I have said if I read an extract from the speech which the Minister gave to the National Civil Aviation Consultative Council recently. I think it was at the first meeting of that Council on 27th January, and I am certain the House will then appreciate that the policy which has been asked for by a number of hon. Members is, in fact, the policy which has been set by the Ministry. The Minister said: First and foremost, we must continue un relenting efforts to improve our safety methods still further. At present, we are flying 10 million passenger miles per fatal accident. I want to see us not merely double that, but to reach infinity. Safer flying is largely a problem of bad weather aids and improved technique at take-off. New radio devices are being perfected, and it will not be long before, as far as navigation is concerned, safe and regular operation in all weathers will be possible, but, of course, it is not only a matter of navigation. We have, for example, to overcome the problem of icing. I hope that, in this direction, great advances will be made in the next few years. A new system of thermal de-icing, combined with the possibility of flying over the weather, should bring great improvements, but, if we are to achieve the greatest possible measure of safety, there are many other problems to which we must pay attention. For many years now, there has been a tendency towards steadily increasing take-off and landing speeds. This cannot continue indefinitely, and I look to our designers and research engineers to find a method to call a halt to this. It may be that, to achieve this, we shall have to accept some slowing down of our progress towards higher speeds. We must not make mere speed into a fetish In words perhaps of different phrasing, the Minister's speech on that occasion crystallised much of the discussion that has taken place here today, and I hope to be able to assure the House what the policy of the Ministry is. Further, the House will remember that, soon after, taking office, the Minister set up the Air Safety Board, a body of the highest scientific and technical skill, to advise him on all matters of safety which he refers to it, and with powers. Of course, to initiate within themselves recommendations to the Minister on matters which they feel ought to receive his attention in order to attain that greater degree of safety.

I think, perhaps, it may he useful if we consider the conditions under which accidents happen. Some of the statements which have been made today, and with which I will deal in a moment, were rather wide of the mark, but it is interesting to note that the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. W. Shepherd) made a statement this afternoon which is correct and which is also one of which we have every right to be proud—that British civil aviation is amongst the safest in the world. An accident very rarely happens, in fact, one may say, never happens, when the aircraft is in the air flying under good conditions We have achieved the flying of aircraft with absolute mechanical safety On the constructional and mechanical side, we have achieved complete safety. Accidents really occur under three conditions—first, take-off; second, landing; and, third, had weather condi- tions; the third being due to bad visibility on landing sometimes arising from ice conditions which affect the mechanical parts, the rudder and elevators. I would remind the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin), who referred to the question of competent pilots, that we have every right to be proud of their achievements. In answer to a Question in this House not long ago, I said that we all ought to be proud of the fact that practically every airline in the world is anxious that our pilots should come into their service. Some of them have made very tempting offers to our pilots to accept positions with them.

When one looks at accidents another interesting fact emerges—it is the human factor and not the mechanical factor which goes wrong. After all, everyone makes mistakes. When I was a clerk in the days that I used to work for a living, we could rub out our mistakes but if a pilot makes a mistake there is only a second and the trouble has arisen. There is research going on, and there are developments practically every day on the mechanical side to check against the possibility of human failure on the part of the pilot and the members of the crew; and it is in a combination of the checks against the human failure that we shall find even greater degrees of safety in the future.

A further point that was raised was in regard to our associations with the international development of safety precautions. Reference was made to ourselves and the United States of America, and I should like to pay tribute here to our good friends of the United States. We have had no stauncher allies than the United States in the development of the safety precautions through the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organisation which is more commonly known as P.I.C.A.O. It is through internationally accepted standards that we shall reduce the number of accidents that are likely to occur.

Mr. Rankin

I should like the hon. Gentleman to elucidate one further point when he is dealing with the question of America. I emphasised the need for lower wing-loading which is an essential factor for safety. Is it not the case that the tendency in America today is to proceed higher and higher with wing loading instead of diminishing it as we want it to be? The weight is now up to 80 pounds per square inch.

Mr. Lindgren

I think that is a fair statement. American manufacturers tend to take more risks than do the British manufacturers, but in so far as P.I.C.A.O. is concerned we are endeavouring to get an international minimum and in obtaining this international minimum the American air lines, operators and Government are assisting. Reference was made by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walkden) to the "met." services. "Met." services as such, of course, are under the Air Ministry and the House will not expect me to deal with what is the responsibility of another Minister. After all, the meteorological services depend upon a comparatively new science. There are also difficulties arising from factors in other countries over which we have no control; but in the development, in conjunction with the Air Ministry, of these services, which are being made available to civilian airlines and aviators, a high standard of achievement has been reached. It is a very difficult problem indeed, because so many factors arise. I would not like to enter into the technicalities of the position—perhaps I could not get very far with the technicalities of the meteorological service—but on every occasion when one gets a "met." forecast one is told what is likely to happen, and then follows one of those qualifications as to what might happen if other factors come into play.

Mr. Austin

I appreciate that "met." services are the responsibility of the Air Ministry and not of the hon. Gentleman. But is he satisfied that those services are fully manned? That is the point at issue.

Mr. Lindgren

They are fully manned wherever it is possible to man them. But here let me say this. There are definite difficulties. In order to get "met." forecasts we have to have men working in very uncongenial conditions in very isolated parts of the world. A large number of these persons have done six years of service with one branch of the service or another. They have been isolated, and they have had all the rough stuff; and some of them are saying. "Well, now we ought to stay in the service, but we will go somewhere where we can see one or two friends now and again, and are not stuck in a hut on a desert island or in the middle of an isolated swamp." The real difficulty arises in that section of the "met." service where the duty is uncongenial. It is no use burking the issue that there are missing links. I think that the objections have point and will have to be met, possibly on the basis of extra consideration for service under such conditions.

Reference has been made to the question of the maintenance of the planes on the ground. Here, again, I think we sometimes tend to depreciate the skill of our own engineering staffs. The general standard of engineering maintenance is extraordinarily high. The fact that that is so is emphasised, as I suggested earlier on, by the fact that we never get a mechanical defect in the plane itself. The defects which do arise are Ones which arise on landing and at take-off, except on such occasions as were referred to by the hon. Member for Doncaster. But I suggest that the occasion referred to was one of those few times when a pin prick in an airpipe makes all the difference at 8,000 or 9,000 feet. I do not say there is adequate staffing. There are few organisations in this country today that have adequate skilled staff. But where staffing considerations are concerned, the situation within the Corporations is satisfactory. I ought to make it clear, when speaking from this Box, that the Minister can speak only in regard to the maintenance staff and the maintenance of aircraft of those airlines for which the Government have some responsibility through the three Corporations.

The general standard of aircraft maintenance in the best of the charter companies is as high as it is in the Corporations, but in some of the smaller charter companies I am afraid that the standard of maintenance may not be so good. But one ought to say this, that before an aircraft flies there is, in fact, a certificate of airworthiness, and before it takes off there is always the requirement of a certificate of airworthiness from the ground engineer. So that all questions of maintenance are guaranteed, so far as one can guarantee them, by the general regulations of the Ministry and its supervision of the work.

Brigadier Prior-Palmer

But the certificate is, surely, an annual certificate?

Mr. Lindgren

No. There is the certificate of airworthiness of the Air Registra- tion Board, which is an annual certificate. Before an aircraft starts on a flight it should have, as it is required to have by the Air Navigation Regulations, the certificate of the ground engineer that it is, in fact, airworthy. I would not guarantee that that is done by every aircraft that takes off. But I can give a guarantee that every one of the aircraft of the three Corporations has its ground engineer's certificate before taking off. The hon. Member for Stretford thought that the pilot ought to be the person to decide whether an aircraft should take off or not. It is true, as I said in reply to an hon. Member this week, that under present conditions that is the position, but it is questionable whether it is right. I do not think anyone ought to have the power to instruct a pilot to take off, but it is a fact that some pilots have taken off when there was considerable risk to the passengers they were carrying. I think someone on the airport ought to have the power to say that an aircraft should not take off, or at least that passengers should be advised that they are taking a risk in entering an aircraft which is to take off under these conditions.

Perhaps I may be allowed to refer to the fact that today week we shall be having the Second Reading of the Air Navigation Bill, when the question of traffic control and other matters to ensure safety will be under discussion. Reference has also been made to F.I.D.O. It was suggested that some people might have lost their lives because F.I.D.O. had not been installed. That is not in accordance with the facts, because there has been no question of F.I.D.O. where crashes have taken place. F.I.D.O. is only used at aerodromes to enable aircraft to land in bad visibility. I have made a statement, which was quite correct, that the whole question of F.I.D.O. was being reexamined. My noble Friend has ensured that F.I.D.O. should be maintained at Blackbushe aerodrome, and that' research, in conjunction with the R.A.F., is pressed forward. The door is by no means closed.

On this question of research, it is foolish to expect that it will not be a long while before the psychological aspect is got over, and a pilot will readily give himself over to some distant control to land his plane when he himself is quite unable to see the ground for a single moment. There is risk in all movement, whether it is walking, cycling, horse-riding, in a motorcar. If one merely puts a leg in front of another, there is always the risk of an accident. I quite agree with what has been said in regard to over-emphasising accidents, but that does not mean we are complacent. All I am saying is that we sometimes do a disservice by over exaggeration.

I turn now to the question of dealing with an accident that has taken place: this raises two considerations. Firstly, there is the question of aircraft construction, of making an aircraft able to resist, as far as is possible, the effects of a crash. Secondly, there is the question of easy release for persons trapped inside an aircraft. The associated problems of rescue work, fire-tenders, crash-tenders, and, first-aid hospital services are under the particular attention of my noble Friend.

We are not satisfied that present equipment is of the absolutely high standard which is necessary. There does not seem to have been as much thought given to fire precautions on aerodromes as the N.F.S. have given to domestic and industrial property fire precautions. I repeat, very serious attention is being given to this matter, and everything possible will be done, not only to bring personnel up to a high standard, but also the equipment. Much has been said about the use of foam to fight aircraft fires. The Americans have perfected a very effective equipment using CO2, which is not, in this country, yet available in the quantities that it might be. That matter is being inquired into, to see whether we can develop it any further. I close this Debate by again stressing my thanks to the House for the opportunity which has been given me to make this statement, and to assure Members and the country that in civil aviation operations safety is, and will continue to be, the first consideration. We shall not be satisfied until we reach that high standard of efficiency in which accidents will be things of the past, and we can achieve the fullest confidence of the public.