HC Deb 16 November 1959 vol 613 cc788-9
28. Mr. Rankin

asked the Minister of Aviation if he will take steps to ensure that all aircraft operating within the London Control Zone are put under the civil authority.

Mr. Sandys

The civil and military air control arrangements in the London Area are closely integrated and are working smoothly. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air and I will ensure that the newly formed Air Traffic Control Board keep this problem under review.

Mr. Rankin

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has already stated that the two aircraft were preparing to land, without indicating to the House the fact that the two were landing at different airports, one at Northolt and the other at London Airport? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that this is the sort of confusion that can take place in the air today in the London Control Zone because of this liaison control? Is he aware that there is a widespread feeling, with which I hope he will agree, that we should abandon this form of control and put all aircraft within the London Control Zone under the civil authority, for the simple reason that only civil aircraft can land at London Airport?

Mr. Sandys

Those are two rather different questions. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to answer. The fact that the two aircraft were landing, one at Northolt and the other at Heathrow, does not alter the question of the ground control. They were, in fact, over Watford at the time when the incident complained of occurred. As to the control of R.A.F. and other aircraft, the arrangement is that these aircraft are controlled jointly by an integrated system in the same building. What I am looking at now is whether we can integrate it even more closely than has been done in the past. We have not had any serious trouble as a result of this arrangement, but, as I said in my Answer, I propose that the new Air Traffic Control Board should look at this matter and let the Secretary of State for Air and myself have its views on it.

Mr. Chetwynd

To avoid all possible trouble in future, can the right hon. Gentleman say whose is the ultimate authority between civil and military in cases of this kind?

Mr. Sandys

It is not a question of which is the ultimate authority. The aircraft come into the area and they are controlled jointly.

Mr. Manuel

Who decides which comes in first?

Mr. Sandys

It is not a question of which comes in first. In this case, one was allocated one height and the other a height 1,000 ft. above it. Therefore, that issue does not arise.

Mr. Bevan

I am certain that there is no desire on the part of anyone to score points here, but there is anxiety, as the right hon. Gentleman will realise. When he speaks about the necessity for integration, the right hon. Gentleman implicitly admits that they are at the moment a little apart. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on this side of the House, and I am sure hon. Members opposite, hold the view that it would be very much better, if there are no paramount security reasons against it, that one authority should be responsible for the whole?

Mr. Sandys

Naturally, I want to help in anything concerned with safety and security of life. I went into this when I was at London Airport only last week. One of the matters which is being examined is whether we could not get the two people who are controlling these aircraft sitting at the same table alongside each other so that there can be no possibility of difficulty.