HC Deb 19 March 1958 vol 584 cc1261-2
39. Mr. Gresham Cooke

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what consideration has been given by the International Air Transport Association to the question of seats facing backwards in scheduled air liners; and whether he will, in the interests of safety, give a general direction to British European Airways and the British Overseas Airways Corporation to have a proportion of backward-facing seats in aeroplanes, so that passengers may choose such if they wish.

Mr. Watkinson

The Association have from time to time considered this question but do not consider that operators should be obliged to provide rearward-facing seats. In the absence of any international requirement, I am not prepared to issue the direction suggested by my hon. Friend. It is open to airlines to fit a proportion of backward-facing seats if they wish to do so.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Would my right hon. Friend confirm or not that, of the 22 survivors in the Munich crash, all or a very great proportion were in backward-facing seats? Would it not be a a good thing now to try to encourage our national Airways Corporations to provide a certain proportion, perhaps 50 per cent., of backward-facing seats, as a number of passengers have a feeling that they are rather safer than forward-facing ones?

Mr. Watkinson

As regards the Munich crash, all these facts will be brought out in the Report, on which I do not intend to comment. In answer to my hon. Friend, he may like to know —and probably does know—that modern British aircraft are now being fitted so that the seats can very easily face either forwards or backwards. The airline can make its choice, and it is my view at the moment that it should be able to do so.

Mr. Beswick

The Minister says that until I.A.T.A. make a recommendation he is not going to do anything in the matter. Is it not a fact that the International Association will do nothing unless one national member takes the initiative? Is the Minister saying that he is not proposing to press this matter in I.A.T.A. in the future?

Mr. Watkinson

What I am saying is that I.A.T.A. has stated that there do not appear to be any overriding safety requirements which require them to be mandatory. Our British aircraft are being fitted with seats that can face in either direction, and it is up to the operators of the aircraft to make their own choice on their own judgment.

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