HC Deb 01 November 1950 vol 480 cc152-4
Mr. Erroll

(by Private Notice) asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation whether he has any statement to make on the air disaster at London Airport last night.

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

As hon. Members will have heard, a British European Airways Corporation airliner crashed at London Airport last night. The aircraft was Viking number G-AHPN flying from Paris. I deeply regret to say that of the 30 persons on board 28 were killed. The Chief Inspector of Accidents has started his investigations and my noble Friend has decided in all the circumstances to have a public inquiry into the accident.

On behalf of my noble Friend and of His Majesty's Government I wish to express great sympathy for the relatives and friends of those who lost their lives and in that expression I am sure that the whole House would wish to join.

Mr. Erroll

While joining in the expression of sympathy for the relatives and friends of those who lost their lives, may I ask the Minister why this aircraft was accepted by ground control at London Airport when all others had been refused: why was not this aircraft diverted to Blackbushe Aerodrome, and why was not the fog dispersal equipment in full working order, as promised by his predecessor three years ago?

Mr. Beswick

I think that these questions ought to be left to the inquiry. I can say that in fact, under the regulations, this aircraft was not diverted to London Airport. Information was given about London Airport and other airports, and then it was the responsibility of the pilot to decide where he should go.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

Since this is specifically a fog area, may I, without wishing to enter into any controversial details, ask the Parliamentary Secretary to put to his right hon. Friend the desirability of associating with the public inquiry a specific inquiry as to whether, if there had been a Fido fog dispersal unit in operation at London Airport, it would have prevented the accident?

Mr. Beswick

As I told the House in July, experiments are now being conducted into the possibilities of finding a cheaper form of Fido, but I do not think the implications of the question should be accepted by the House.

Mr. Lloyd

With all respect, experiments on a cheaper form of Fido were in full swing during the later stages of the war, when, in fact, a cheaper form of apparatus was installed at London Airport. Will the Parliamentary Secretary ask his right hon. Friend to reconsider the question of Fido aid for landings in fog, in the light, among other things, of the much greater capital value of aircraft.

Mr. Beswick

These matters are now being considered.

Sir Ralph Glyn

What arrangements were made to notify the relatives of the people who lost their lives in this accident, because no information was given in the papers or on the B.B.C. as to which service was affected?

Mr. Beswick

The announcement was made by the operating company, but if there was any difficulty of that kind, I will have it investigated.

Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett

Can we be told at this stage whether it is a fact that the aircraft was not attempting to land at the time of the accident, but was making a preliminary pass over the runway?

Mr. Beswick

I really think that it would be improper for me to make any reply to these questions.

Air Commodore Harvey

As fog conditions may be expected for the next few weeks, and as the inquiry will undoubtedly take some time, will the Parliamentary Secretary say whether Fido facilities are available at Blackbushe and Manston?

Mr. Beswick

I understand that they are available.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

According to Press reports, this aircraft was diverted from Northolt. Can the Parliamentary Secretary say why, when the aircraft came over London Airport, it was impossible for ground control to notify the pilot that London Airport was similarly closed owing to fog?

Mr. Beswick

London Airport was not closed, but, as I said earlier, I think it would be better for these matters to be examined in closer detail by the inquiry.