HC Deb 21 December 1962 vol 669 cc1627-57

12.7 p.m.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

I desire to call the attention of the House to the decision of the Government to build a supersonic airliner, but, first, I should like to welcome the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to his new appointment. I am sure that I speak not only for myself but for hon. Members on both sides when I say that we wish him well and wish him success. He has come to aviation at a very critical period indeed, as I am sure he is well aware. In the interests of the nation at least, and not merely in his interests, we all hope that he will acquit himself well in a difficult situation.

The decision to build a supersonic airliner has been welcomed on this side of the House, but that does not mean that we are satisfied with the rather scanty information provided by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister when he announced, a short time ago, that the construction of the prototype was to be proceeded with. For many months members of the Opposition have urged the Minister to commit himself to this project. Now that the decision has been finally taken we feel that too much valuable time was lost. It may well be too late, and there could now be other priorities. If this view be wrong, it is the Parliamentary Secretary's bounden duty at this stage to show me today why and where I am wrong.

May I pose a simple question? What is the purpose of air travel? Is it not to move between places comfortably, cheaply, and at a speed which will not challenge safety in the physical sense, nor imperil health through facing hazards which are still imperfectly understood.

This project is the biggest and most expensive that aviation has attempted on this side of the Atlantic. The plan is attractive and it will contribute, if successful, to good relations with France and it could bind the aviation industries of Britain and France more closely together because the skill of each is needed, and both are well-equipped and strong, for this project.

The bulk of the cost of the development must be borne by the taxpayer and his liability in Britain will be not less than £75 million. In this connection, may I make a plea for Scotland? I do so not in any nationalistic spirit, but because we shall be required to meet our share of the financial burden. There is a growing feeling that this new industry is not sufficiently represented on the productive side in the part of the country from which I come. I hope that, in view of the need of Scotland today for this type of industry, we will have a share of the airframe construction. Although, on the engine side, we could have a little more, we shall not make a point of that; but we are appealing for a much larger share of the airframe construction.

The figure I gave represents the minimum amount of money which will need to be invested, but it is already being suggested that we will require to think of another 25 per cent. beyond that minimum for what are being called contingencies. "When one looks into the matter one realises that even this additional percentage may be insufficient. Considering our experiences with Blue Streak, Blue Steel and the recent tangle over Skybolt, I should like to be assured that the financial funk into which those earlier disasters precipitated us has no chance of emerging with this new project.

We should be told that the financial estimate is soundly based and that the knowledge derived from flying jet fighters and, in some instances, bombers can profitably be built into this civil aircraft. However, that knowledge is not everything. There is a vast difference between the handling of fare-paying passengers and trained Service men, so that there are still many questions which need to be asked by those who, in the end, must foot the bill for this venture.

One such question suggests itself immediately. How many additional people will want to use this method of travel in an aluminium shell, the outer surface of which will be raised to a temperature of 284 degrees Fahrenheit, 72 degrees above the temperature of boiling water? That tremendous increase in heat is due to thermal friction between the air and the airframe of the flying aircraft. That fact prompts a further question. Will the residual heat create any special problems after the quick descent of the aircraft?

I recall that R. L. Stevenson wrote in his "Child's Garden of Verse": I hove a little shadow that goes in an out with me. So has the supersonic. The subsonic boom. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will say a word about that. In particular, he might tell us what its effect on other aircraft may be.

Let me consider for a little while the passengers who will be inside the proposed new machine. How will the cabin pressures be maintained and what will they be? How will the cabin and cockpit get adequate fresh air and oxygen'? How will the passengers and crew survive if the pressurisation and conditioning systems fail at maximum altitude? Is there any risk of the tyres exploding or losing pressure during flight? The answers to these queries may be known. Indeed, all the answers to all the questions posed and not yet posed may be known. But they must be widely advertised among those who are not versed in the science and technology of aviation because we will want passengers and they must be given complete confidence in the integrity of the aircraft.

Will that integrity be impaired structurally from a high dose of radiation and will this have any effect on the passengers and crew? What, for example, would be the effect on the efficiency of radar by the rain, hail and ice crystals which are met with at supersonic speeds? If there are any such effects, can special protective steps be taken?

It can be said that no aircraft of this kind would ever be allowed to fly without being equipped with every kind of safety device. Nevertheless, we must still put the questions. And we must get the answers, particularly to this question. Has the Mach 2 conception of flight any features which will make it safer than subsonic flight? But, we must first catch our goose before we cook it. So I turn to the development of the prototype. There is the question of cost. The period of amortisation and the possible impact of the Mach 3 supersonic on the fortunes of the Mach 2. Let me glance, also, at potential customers, and other matters which derive from those considerations.

If the project is to thrive the aircraft must sell. Therefore, the price must not exceed £3 million. That is a bit more than the amount paid for the big jets, which sell for £2.2 million. We must not think that everyone is just itching to go supersonic, and is ready to buy at any price. Some will undoubtedly wait to see what happens about the Mach 3 because across the Atlantic the supersonic programmes are planned on the basis of steel aircraft. These may start at Mach 2, but they can evolve to Mach 3 since, with the steel frame, limits on operating speeds can be removed without altering the basic structure of the machine. This cannot be done with our light alloy supersonic so that our lead over the Americans becomes important.

I wonder whether the hon. Member could give us any guidance on this. Does he think that it will be five years, or are the Government working on a longer period? The length of the period will be a factor in fixing the selling price. What is to be done about wiping out the debt created? The French Government, I am told, will pay their full share of development. Will the British Government do the same? If they are not proposing to do so, will the hon. Member now tell the industry clearly what sum is expected from it?

If there is only a five-year period to work in, and our industry has to pay some of the development charges, the cost of the machine could be too high. I know that this would be modified by the number of machines sold, but when one looks around, outside Britain, Australia and France, one finds that fewer potential customers are evident at the moment, and fewer will be forthcoming if the price goes above the £2½ million to £3 million mark.

For France, the problem is easier of solution than it is for us. Air France will fly the aircraft ordered by the Government, who automatically recoups the airline for its losses. It is to be hoped that pressure will not be exerted on British Overseas Airways Corporation to fly a supersonic airliner at a price which it might believe to be uneconomic, and afterwards criticise the Corporation for its consequent losses.

There is another aspect of the economics of the supersonic aircraft. It will presumably serve New York, London, Paris and the Far East. Between the first two airports it will fly at supersonic speed. Between London and Paris, however, the flight will be subsonic, and dreadfully uneconomic. Therefore, the shape of the aircraft must be variable to overcome this handicap.

It is at that point that an idea born in this country—I believe at Vickers Armstrong—may revolutionise supersonic design, namely, the geared wings devised by Dr. Barnes Wallis; so providing a possible solution to our economic problem. It may be some years before this invention is a working proposition, but with the knowledge of its existence prospective buyers may not want a supersonic aircraft without it. This fact could be another element in making the price of the Mach 2 too high. In those circumstances, I strongly urge the Government to make themselves wholly responsible for the cost of development. I hope that the hon. Member will impress that view on his right hon. Friend, and assure him that I am far from being the only person who holds it.

I turn to the arrangements for the apportionment of work which is involved in this development. We get two-thirds of the engine construction and two-fifths of the airframe construction. When the right hon. Gentleman answered questions after making his announcement about the aircraft, he regarded this proportion as a fair disposal of the total work, but it has been reckoned that 14 million man-hours will be expended in the development of this project.

The French industry has a total labour force of 85,000 and ours a total of 290,000. It would seem that any just allocation of the work to be expended on the prototype must have regard to the numbers employed in both countries. On that basis, the arrangement accepted by the right hon. Gentleman is likely to benefit the French industry much more than ours, despite the fact that we share the financial burden on an equal basis.

Let me briefly examine another aspect of this matter. The Government are finding a large sum of money; but if it is spread over the period of its use and if the industry contributes to the development then the amount involved from year to year will not cause anyone to gasp. Nevertheless, I must ask whether we are putting the money to its best purpose. I do not think that we are. First, I believe that this venture will be a vast gamble unless the Minister has another purpose in mind for his project, namely, a military one. I presume that the supersonic aircraft could be adapted for such service, so that if it does not succeed commercially it need not be written off as a dead loss.

But there are other things to be done in civil transport. For a long time I have emphasised the need to persuade increasing numbers of people to use the air as their mode of travel. But fares are too high—and they are soon to go even higher. In that case, why should we not turn our research towards the design of an aircraft which is planned not merely for speed but for comfort and safety in travel; and able to be operated at low and stable fares, with low landing speed and light wing loading?

Fifteen years ago in this House, in a debate of this kind, I urged that point. Since then, on the route along which I fly we have had six different types of aircraft. I suppose that is one of the benefits of competition—a testimony to progress—but the price is borne on the ticket. Fares have now become too high for the ordinary person to face, with the result that only 2 per cent. of our travelling public goes by air.

There may be a case for investing millions of pounds in conveying a small and privileged group by air at fantastic speeds and fares, but that policy alone will not feed the thousands who work regularly in the aviation industry; or keep them in it in such numbers as would be sustained by a policy that brings ordinary persons, in their tens of thousands, to travel in aircraft of stabilised design at low and steady fares.

In conclusion, let me sum up: The Mach 2 supersonic aircraft is not a new idea; it marks the end of a journey—a journey strewn with same terrible disasters. And so the safety aspect of flying must still command our thoughts and our attention. We cannot develop the Mach 2 machine further without weakening its structure. Indeed, the high outside temperature of the airframe may do that as it is. In this development we must be careful not to risk a repetition of what happened with the Comet.

On the other hand, the Mach 3 is basically a new project; it begins something. In my view, it would be a tragic day if a Minister of Aviation ever rose in his place and told us that the Government of the day had decided to abandon this project; for the simple reason that it had been started too late. If, when the hon. Member replies today, he can put our doubts and fears to flight lie will have done a signal service to his Government.

12.30 p.m.

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)

I, also, would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on his appointment and wish him well in what I am sure he thinks is a fascinating post in the Government. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) was (mite right to pose the questions he did to the Government, because I think that they are all in the minds of many of us. My information is that the Government have done a great deal of research in the last two or three years. No doubt we shall be told about it.

While I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member sand, I thought that he was not his normal, progressive self in his thinking today and that he contradicted himself slightly. At one point he was suggesting that we should go for safety at perhaps lower speeds, or at least maintaining existing speeds, Whilst later he was making a strong case for the Mach 2 aircraft of steel construction. Research has been done and I am satisfied that on the advice available from Farnborough and the British aircraft industry the Minister is well justified in taking the steps which he has taken.

As for costs, it is difficult with any scientific project of this nature to have an accurate estimate. We see in the Public Accounts Committee almost as every month goes by how far estimates are out. No doubt this project will cost more. Projects of this kind certainly never cost less than estimated. The cost might be about £4 million for each aircraft which was about the sum that the "Queen Mary" cost us in the early 1930s. It is staggering to think that £4 million might be spent to carry 100 passengers, but the turnover and utilisation is tremendous in the course of the year.

I think that my right hon. Friend was right to grasp the opportunity when he did. Had he done so earlier, the aircraft might have been available before the airlines were ready for it and before they had amortised the existing fleets. The timing is just right and the country is ready to get into the supersonic business. We have learned enough during the last few weeks, in various quarters of the world, not to depend too much on our friends, but am happy that this association is with the French. Their aircraft industry has always been good and has improved enormously in the last few years. This is an excellent collaboration and I am very pleased about it.

The Concord Mach 2.2 is of light alloys of existing materials. All the information shows that it will be a safe aeroplane at that speed and will have a life of not less than ten years, which is a good deal more than that of aircraft constructed in recent years. I am sorry that the Economist published an article a few weeks ago saying that the future development of the aircraft will be nil. All aircraft when they are being developed are improved in some respect, and particularly from the point of view of safety. I do not know how many people would want to fly in the American type if the Americans go ahead with it. It will have no windows and passengers will feel caged in. If the two aeroplanes were running together I think I know which would be preferred.

Here the British and the French have an excellent start for B.O.A.C., but the Corporation is not to be pushed into this. It will evaluate the aircraft itself. Incidentally, I hope that it will do the evaluation rather better than some past evaluations which have been done for the corporations. Airlines like Israeli Airlines will probably each buy one or two of the aircraft and they will get off to a splendid start in paying off initial costs.

I agree with the hon. Member for Govan about Dr. Barnes Wallis's jointed wings. This great man, who is British, should have his ideas exploited. He is getting on in years, but I am told that his brain is as good as ever. If we do not get busy with his ideas no doubt the Americans will do so. When two countries enter upon a project of this kind it is difficult to share the work absolutely equally, but it will be a case of doing about half of the work each.

We will probably do most of the work on the engine. We have a start with the super Olympus engine which is already flying in the Vulcan on tests. This should give us a chance to get the engine right before the plane is constructed. The Concord will fly to New York in about 3½ hours. If the American aircraft is developed it might save 30 minutes on the trip. I do not know that this is very important. I spent 1½ hours in a train at Euston before it moved out of the station when I was going to my constituency recently. I do not think that one would want to save 1½ hours on a 13-hour journey between London and Australia.

Landing and take-off speeds must be developed. There is the example of the Boeing and DC8. I was told by a well-known technical man in British aviation that if possible he avoids flying in a Boeing. It is difficult to avoid it, because all the major airlines have Boeings. It is a difficult aeroplane to handle in taking off and landing and it averages one crash a month though, fortunately, there are not always fatalities. There was a crash recently near Paris. Unfortunately, I have to fly in one across the Atlantic on 12th January.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the take-off and landing speeds of the SST will be the same as those of the Boeings?

Sir A. V. Harvey

Yes, but the hon. Member is confused about my remarks. The trouble is the wing construction of the Boeing and the engine pods hanging underneath. It is not a clean aeroplane. If one is flying an aircraft like the Boeing in hilly country over a marker beacon one has to position the aeroplane and one finds that it is a bag of tricks. A clean, well-designed aeroplane works far better. There is an old tag in aviation that if an aeroplane looks well, it works well. That goes for the latest Comet, which is a remarkable piece of engineering.

To delay this proposed project now would mean handing over the advantage to the United States. I have a great respect for what the Americans do, but most of the things they do the Europeans can do better. It is time that we realised that this is a great project which will help us to get all our resources together and make the maximum use of them. We tend to try to do too much in this country very often, but it should always be remembered that jet aeroplanes were developed entirely by us. How many Americans realise that we gave licences to the United States for their construction? We gave licences for the construction of the Pratt and Whitney Mark 2 and the Packard Mark I. Not one American in ten realises that those engines were designed in this country. We do not say enough about these things.

The Concord will be a good investment and well worth while. Even if the aeroplane does not fulfil all expectations it will provide training for many thousands of our engineers in this form of engineering and when the aircraft is finished it may well have a military use, though I hope that that will not be necessary. A bonus will also be passed on to British and French engineering industries in the way of the by-products of hydraulics and metals. All these things that go with the construction of a new plane are of tremendous value.

I am glad that the French are our partners in these matters. We are next door to each other. The British Aircraft Corporation and the Hawker-Siddeley Group are first-class organisations. Since the streamlining took place there has been a different approach to all these problems. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the initiative he has shown in acting so quickly and grasping this nettle when he did.

12.40 p.m.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

Obviously, there are many questions in the minds of hon. Members about this project and I intend to put a few new ones to the Parliamentary Secretary. I am by no means against progress, but I think it quite extraordinary that the Government should have announced a decision to spend £75 million to £85 million of the taxpayers' money on this aeroplane without giving the full facts to the House and the country. I hope some of these facts will come out when the Parliamentary Secretary replies.

There are a great many unknowns, even to those of us who have taken the trouble to read the published accounts and statements of the manufacturers in the Press and, of course, the statements of the Minister himself. The journalists who write on these subjects themselves do not know.

In The Aeroplane and Commercial Aviation News of August this year Robert Beaufort wrote an article headed, "Market Research—or Crystal Ball?" He said: The British part of the Anglo-French supersonic venture has all the appearances of being a disastrous exercise. At the very best it is the less commercially inviting part of the enterprise. An editorial in the same magazine on 29th November called the decision an "act of faith" and The Times of 30th November bluntly referred to the decision as "a gamble." Lord Brabazon of Tara has told us that if we proceed now with the SST we shall ruin civil aviation for ever.

I am not saying that these are accurate representations of the situation, but at least they reinforce the demand that the decision has got to be justified with much better facts than any we have been given so far.

The question whether this aircraft is to be profitable to operate or not depends on how much it will cost to develop. We have been told that the British share of the development costs is between £75 million and £85 million. In another place, Lord Chesham said that it was between £80 million and £85 million. That difference is not large in comparison with the overall amount involved, but it shows how difficult it is to be accurate when we are talking about a venture of this kind, which is moving into what is a substantially uncharted territory.

Past experience shows that the development of new aircraft invariably costs more than the figure which is given at the beginning. I am prepared to bet a monkey to a mousetrap that future Ministers wild have to come to the House and ask for a lot more money before the prototype even gets off the ground.

The initial cost of this aircraft will obviously depend heavily on the number which are sold. We have to depend on the Press for our information on this subject, because the Minister has given us very little to go on. The Times of 30th November this year said that there might be 300 to 400 supersonic aircraft in the early 1970s and that it would be necessary to sell 130 of the Anglo-French model for the project to break even. According to The Aeroplane and Commercial Aviation News" of 29th November, fewer than 20 supersonic transports of Mach 2.2 would be needed to carry all the North Atlantic passengers who travelled on these routes last year. The Minister has given us a different figure. He says that the number would be 35, assuming a 60 per cent. load factor. I should like to be assured that his figure has been properly checked and that he disagrees with the figure which was given by this magazine.

Even if the traffic on the North Atlantic route were doubled by 1970—and that is rather an optimistic rate of growth to assume in the light of what has been happening in the past year—that would mean that we would have to sell 60 aircraft for operations on other routes, assuming—again, this is a large assumption—that the whole of the traffic on the North Atlantic routes would be carried by the SST.

But suppose we could sell only 80 of these aircraft instead of the 130 which we are told would be necessary to sell in order to break even. That would mean that the initial cost would have to be increased by no less than £750,000 in order to recover the development charges. I think that the Government's intention is not to recover these development charges at all. I think that they will write off this expenditure of £75 million to £85 million, and I should like to know the answer.

If what the hon. Gentleman says about the first cost being £4 million is correct, that would be a very serious matter for the economics of the SST, because depreciation and insurance are proportional to first cost. It would mean, according to some calculations that I did on estimates which were given by Dr. Russell, that the operating cast per hour would be increased by 7½ per cent. if this aircraft were to cost as much as £4 million.

As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) has said, if, by 1966, when the prototype is flying it becomes clear that the Americans will have a Mach 3 airliner in service by 1972, the obvious result will be that all the airlines would hold off from buying. The only customers in that case would be Air France and B.O.A.C. The Minister said on 29th November that the market would depend on a number of factors. He went on to say: If we have the only supersonic aircraft in the field at the time, the market will be a fairly large one … I should like to know what that means, because "fairly large" could be anything between 100 and 500. The Minister also said: If there were rivals in or near the field, of course, the position would be different"— [OFFICIAL s REPORT, 29th November, 1962; Vol. 668, cc. 673–4.] Does he think, or does the Parliamentary Secretary think, that the Americans will sit back and let us sweep the board? If so that would be wishful thinking. It is unrealistic not to appreciate that we shall face very formidable competition from the Americans, bearing in mind the experience that they will accumulate over the next few years in supersonic military flying. We shall not have that advantage. At least, I would say that this competition which we might expect from the Americans could be formidable, provided that the technical problems of flying at these speeds can be solved at all.

About the operating, costs of the SST, Mr. Robert Beaufort said in the same article to Which I have referred: In the United Kingdom important design studies were completed following the Supersonic Committee report"— that is, the Ministry of Supply committee, which reported in March, 1959— and it was generally agreed that the 100 seater narrow-delta aircraft had direct operating costs 10–15 per cent. higher than the subsonic jets, even when a most favourable view was taken of the market potential of the aircraft and the research and development costs were distributed over military and civil versions of the project. As far as we know, there are no military versions of the Concord, and if the Minister had any such applications in mind no doubt he would have informed us so that we might have realised that these development charges would be more widely spread.

I should like to consider some figures given by Dr. A. E. Russell, the Chief Engineer of Bristol Aircraft Ltd., in reply to Mr. Beaufort in the 30th September issue of The Aeroplane and Commercial Aviation News. Dr. Russell gives the direct cost per passenger mile as 1.12d. for the SST and 1.25d. for the subsonic jet. But the direct cost per passenger mile of the VC10, according to the official figures of the British Aircraft Corporation, published in its brochure, is less than 1.5 cents. a passenger mile on all stage lengths of over 1,000 miles, and on stage lengths of 3,000 miles the figure is 1.25 cents., or 1.07d. per passenger mile.

Mr. Godfrey Lee, deputy chief engineer of Handley Page, gives the direct operating cost of a present day subsonic jet as 1.1d. per passenger mile, while he puts the supersonic delta at 1.4d. Furthermore, Dr. Russell dismisses the possibility that further reductions in the operating costs of subsonic jets may be secured by means of technical improvements, and he thinks these may be more than outweighed by increases in the selling price of the aircraft.

I think that that must be an entirely spurious argument, because if the selling costs of subsonic aircraft increased, exactly the same thing would happen with the supersonic aircraft. I believe that I am right also in saying that the price of the second generation subsonic jets is not substantially in excess of that of the first generation.

Bo Lundberg estimates that the operating costs of subsonic jets could be reduced to 20 per cent. below their present levels by 1970, and he says this in an article entitled "Is supersonic aviation compatible with the sound development of civil aviation?" He further points out that the estimates of operating costs for SSTs are based on the unlikely assumption that they might enjoy the same utilisation as the present day jets—that is, between 3,000 and 3,500 hours.

If that is to be done it means that the SST has to make twice as many trips in each 24 hours and that, in turn, means that passengers will have to arrive and depart at very peculiar hours. So, either we shall have to accept the reduced utilisation which will invalidate the comparison, or passengers will have to be attracted to travel at difficult hours by means of reduced fares.

Bo Lundberg shows that with a one hour turn round, to get four single flights between New York and Paris into the day, it would be necessary for a service to start from New York at 7 a.m. and for another to arrive in Paris at midnight. Obviously, these two flights would not be very popular. I do not know how much consideration has been given by B.O.A.C. to these problems of scheduling, but it is something to be taken into account if we are to assume that the utilisation of SST is to be equal to that of subsonic jets.

I hope that we shall not be given a lot of "sales talk" about the cost being "in line with the best subsonic jets of the present time". We want to see cal—culations—at least, I want to see them— and I should like to emphasise that the cost must not be in line with present-day subsonic jets, but with jets which will be flying in 1970. That has been made quite clear by Sir Matthew Slattery.

The effect of the introduction of the SST on the value of subsonic aircraft in service at this time should be considered. We have only just allowed B.O.A.C. to write off over £30 million on the Comets and Britannias which was necessary because of the introduction of the big American jets which made it impossible for them to compete with older aircraft on the North Atlantic routes. If the supersonic project is successful, it seems to me that the situation may be repeated exactly in 1970, because at that time the VC 10s will have been in service for a maximum of six years, and the Minister will be coming to the House and asking us to slice millions of pounds off their value.

I wish now to refer to technical problems and, first, to noise. This has been a matter of concern to a great many people who live near airports and who, probably, have never been in an aircraft in their lives. It is a matter of importance to the airlines because they recognise that any increase over existing noise levels wil make them extremely unpopular.

In the I.A.T.A. requirements for the SST, which were published at the end of July, it was laid down that no increase in engine noise level could be tolerated. The Minister, in a Written Answer to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), on 3rd December, said that the noise level would be higher, but that it would not matter, because the aircraft would climb away at a steeper angle from take-off. I wonder whether I.A.T.A. or, indeed, the people of Twickenham will be satisfied with that explanation.

I am informed by people who live near London Airport that the Boeing 707s are the noisiest aircraft which they have had to put up with as yet and it will not have escaped their attention that the Concord, having a smaller number of seats than the Boeing, will have to do a greater number of crossings to carry the same traffic; and, therefore, even if the Minister is right in saying that the racket will be no worse, it will inevitably be more frequent because of the smaller number of seats on the aircraft and the growth of traffic.

Bo Lundberg says in a paper presented at the third International Congress of the Aeronautical Sciences, in August, 1962: It is not only the maximum noise levels caused by the take-off that caused annoyances and complaints. The number of occurrences … contribute to the total noise disturbance. The second problem relates to cosmic radiation. According to the knowledge available at present the crew of an SST could receive a radiation dose of as much as half the maximum permitted for radiation workers. If this be true, the crew would have to be classified as radiation workers and radiation protection officers would have to be appointed. The crews would have to wear radiation sensitive badges and would have to be taken off flying duties if they received more than the permitted maxima. Radiation detection equipment would have to be installed both on the ground and in the aircraft, so that solar flares can be avoided. The aircraft would have to carry very large reserves of fuel so that it could complete a flight at lower altitudes if a solar flare suddenly erupted after take-off. The economic implications of all these factors hardly need to be stressed, but I do not know whether they have been taken into account in the cost calculations.

I do not know whether the crews have been informed that they will be treated as radiation workers. Bo Lundberg says that solar flares of sufficient intensity to affect supersonic flights would occur, on average, once a month. I should have thought that this would impose very severe restrictions on the operations particularly considering that false alarms could happen even more often than once a month. Bo Lundberg points out that it appeared that for supersonic aviation to be justified to encroach upon the radiation limits recommended by I.C.R.P. it would have to be of an importance to man comparable with that of atomic power or medical procedures. I think that this may be questioned.

I should have liked to enter into a discussion on many other technical features had there been sufficient time to do so. In conclusion, I wish to say that there are so many problems which have not been resolved that I think the Government should publish an account of all the facts in a White Paper and, also, that they should consider having a full-scale debate at an early date so that we can discuss the many things which have been left unresolved in this debate.

12.56 p.m.

Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)

I fully support the move which has been made on this project, which I consider imaginative, realistic and progressive. I am a bad air passenger and after listening to what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) had to say about supersonic friction outside the new airliner and what my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) said about the Boeing, I am more frightened than ever.

I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary for an assurance that the sonic bang from this new airliner will not be heard over the Greater London area in addition to the immediate area of London Airport. My constituency is situated in the Greater London area and the residents have suffered greatly from aircraft noise over the years. This has created a tremendous problem. There has been a good deal of co-operation from the Ministry in the past and I think that there has been much improvement in the situation following the new regulations relating to the glide paths.

I support this move for the new supersonic airliner, but please do not let us have any further trouble or any regression on the question of aircraft noise due to the introduction of such an airliner. That would be a very bad thing should the situation deteriorate, because it is quite definite that old people and young children are frightened by excessive aircraft noise. That has happened in the past, particularly during the summer months, and, if we have a situation in which the introduction of a supersonic airliner results in sonic bangs anywhere in the London area, it would become a very contentious issue overnight.

I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will be able to give some assurance that we shall not be affected by sonic bangs because, as was said by the Minister in a recent Parliamentary Answer, the actual noise of the supersonic airliner should not exceed that of the Boeing 707 on take-off.

I should like to add that I consider that the hon. Member for Govan has done a service by 'bringing this matter forward for debate today.

12.59 p.m.

Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) for having raised this subject. I wish to put some points to the Parliamentary Secretary which are much in line with what has been said by 'the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) concerning the market research which has been carried out on this project.

My hon. Friend will recall that when the Minister made his announcement my hon. Friend the Member for Malden (Mr. B. Harrison) asked whether a White Paper would be produced on the subject and whether the result of the market research would be made available to the House. I appreciate that there may be sound commercial reasons why detailed information about market research cannot be made available, but I should like to have an assurance on general points which I think it would he well within the competence of the Ministry to provide without infringing commercial prudence.

I should like to know whether there will be a demand for this kind of supersonic airliner and whether inquiries have been made among the airlines to discover whether they are anxious to take up this type of airliner by the time the Ministry expect it to be available. I understand that some North American airlines are writing off their jet aircraft in fourteen years. At least there is some reason to believe that it would not be till the mid-1970s that there will be a real demand to go supersonic and it could well be that one might find the unhappy story of the Comet retold in relation to this aircraft. I hope that this will not be the case, but I should like an assurance on that point.

In particular, I should like to know from my hon. Friend what airlines are showing interest in this matter. My attention was drawn to a report in the Financial Times which suggested that K.L.M. had no interest in going supersonic, can my hon. Friend also say whether Qantas has shown any interest in this development? The other point comes back to the extent to which this airliner would fly subsonic. Does the Parliamentary Secretary think that the B.O.A.C. route from New York to Chicago will be covered supersonic or subsonic? I should have thought that it would be subsonic, and that if that were so it would add materially to the cost.

All this can be summarised in one question put by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), who hoped that there would be enough orders to pay for the development costs of the aircraft. I should be very interested to know whether that is the Ministry's point of view, or whether it thinks that the development costs would not be recovered.

1.2 p.m.

Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)

I should first like to welcome the Parliamentary Secretary to his new appoint- ment. I fear that in the nature of things, from the electoral point of view, it will not necessarily be a long-term appointment, but I am sure that during the time he fills it he will do so with great distinction. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are very glad to see him in that office.

I think that we ought to express our congratulations to the scientific workers of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, and the scientific workers of the aircraft firms involved in the very excellent work which has been done to make this project possible. I have been to Farnborough and seen some of the research work on the supersonic aircraft there, and, so far as I was able to understand it, it seemed of very high quality. I think that we should also congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) on raising this very important question, and it is a pity that we have not had time for a more full and formal debate. I should also like to express thanks to the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffin) and the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. D. Smith) for the commendably brief way in which they have put their very helpful and valuable points.

The Opposition has so far expressed concurrence for the supersonic airliner project. but this must inevitably to some extent be conditional concurrence. First, we have nothing like the mass of highly-skilled technical advice which is available to the Minister, so we are left very much to our own limited technical resources in assessing this very complex situation. Secondly, there are the mass of questions which require answer, some of them asked on both sides of the House today, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Govan. Our acceptance of this plan must be, therefore, with considerable reservations. The Parliamentary Secretary need not look worried; I am hoping that he will be able to produce excellent answers. I must emphasise, however, that our acceptance of this project must be of a conditional nature at this stage.

It is obviously a difficult question whether we should have supersonic transport. It is not a clear-cut issue. One thing which strikes one as inevitable is that if we do not build a supersonic aircraft the French, the Americans, and the Russians will. Unless we build a supersonic airliner or contribute to building one we shall have to contract out of future long distance aircraft technology of the highest quality.

These are the questions with which we are faced. Clearly also this supersonic airliner would have a very desirable effect on unemployment which is such a grave feature in our country's affairs at present. It would have the effect of stimulating industry in many ways—the electrical industry, the electronics industry, the metal industry, the hydraulics industry and the fuel industry. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that some of the work that may be involved in this will be directed to areas of high unemployment. It would obviously be very valuable if he could give us that assurance. It is also quite clear that one of the most important by-products of this airliner will be a widespread defusion of greater technical knowledge throughout British industry and technology. With these remarks as to the desirability of this supersonic airliner I must come to what must be some of the reservations in our minds and on what I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to help us.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Govan mentioned, the paramount consideration must be safety. I do not think the fact that an airliner can travel at very high speed makes it less safe. My own personal experience of a few weeks ago gave me no confidence at all that a slow moving aircraft is necessarily a safe one. There are many other questions of safety to be taken into consideration with regard to this new airliner. My hon. Friend the Member for Govan has referred to the possibility of failure of refrigeration, the danger of pressurisation failure and the danger of differential pressures on the tyres. It is also very important indeed that the maximum attention should be given to guaranteeing the systems and structural reliability of this aircraft. This will require an immense amount of research work and of very careful technical thinking.

There are other ancillary aspects in connection with the flying of this aircraft. There must be a big advance in flight control, navigational aids and meterological knowledge to cope with the operation of this aircraft. To give only a small illustration, I understand that the turning circle of this aircraft is over 60 miles. We have not weather radar which can give warning of ice crystal clouds which are dangerous to aircraft flying within this distance. This is only one technical aspect which involves the question of the safety of the aircraft. There are many others and we have only about seven years to learn the necessary know-how to cope with these points.

Other matters which have been referred to are the effects of solar radiation. I understand that the effect on passengers is very small, but one has also to consider the effect on crews when subjected to flying for a long period, and also what may happen if there is a solar flare and therefore a large increase in solar radiation. This aircraft which will be subjected to unique environmental hazards and systems will have to be very carefully investigated from the point of view of safety.

I come to the question of cost. We have heard that our contribution will be £85 million. I am afraid that the Ministry of Aviation has not a happy record in budgeting, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows. My recollection is that we have been faced with ultimate costs of missiles many times the original estimate. It seems to me very doubtful whether we shall be able to escape with a cost of £85 million for development. This figure presumably assumes that all will go well and that there will be no difficulties. I shall be glad to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that there is a reserve in the figures to deal with contingencies which may arise. I shall be very surprised if our share of the development costs only £85 million.

I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to indicate whether he is satisfied that these aircraft will be operational by 1970. One cannot pretend that we in this country have a good record in delivering aircraft on time. I think that that date must be a little speculative. I personally have some doubts whether we shall have these aircraft completely operational by 1970. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to reassure us on that.

The next important question is what market will be available for these aircraft. I understand that, on the present basis, less than twenty of these Mach 2.2 airliners would be sufficient to deal with the whole of the North Atlantic traffic. General Puget, who is in charge of this matter on the French side, has given the figure of 130 aircraft as the break-even number to sell, I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to develop this question of a market for these aircraft. It seems to me that it will depend on many factors. The first will be the first cost of the aircraft. We are given to understand that this will be not much more than the present Boeing 707 or DC8. Is this really so? Another very important factor will he the operating costs about which I feel a little disquiet.

These aircraft hold only 100 passengers. The Boeing 707 and DC8 hold 175 passengers. It needs only a little elementary mental arithmetic to work out that, if these aircraft are to have roughly the same operating costs as the Boeing, for every pound per mile it costs to run the Boeing 707, these aircraft will have to cost only 12s. to be comparable on the same passenger basis. I wonder whether the size of these aircraft will be adequate; or are the Government hoping that there will be a particularly high load factor in these aircraft. Again, perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to help us.

The most serious aspect from the point of view of marketability is the arrival of a rival supersonic airliner. The President of the United States is awaiting a report from the Federal Aviation Agency, which, in turn, is awaiting a report from its Supersonic Transport Advisory Committee under the chairmanship of General Orval R. Cook. This report is expected in the next few weeks. But Mr. Hlolaby, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Agency, has in the last few weeks given a Press conference in Los Angeles at which he expressed the view that the Mach 3 airliner would be more efficient, that it would cost about £270 million to develop and that it would be available to the United States in nine to ten years. If what he says is correct, the Concord will be faced with a very formidable rival very shortly after it comes into production. This is certainly a factor to which we must pay very close attention in considering the market for it.

I should like to know the Minister's views about the effect that this project will have on B.O.A.C. One effect, of course, will be that there will be only five years in which to write off the capital value of the VC l0s compared with the companies which have used for some time Boeing 707s and which will have several years longer. I should like to know what B.O.A.C.'s views have been about purchasing these aircraft. In referring to its assessment of this aircraft, B.O.A.C. says in its statement—and I am quoting from page 931 of Flight of 13th December, 1962— In making this assessment, the Corporation will have to be assured that Anglo-French supersonic aircraft will be economically operable and competitive for a period equal to that currently used in accounting practice. That means that the Corporation wishes to be assured that the aircraft will not have any serious competition for about seven years, the normal accounting period. In the face of the American threat, this seems to me to be a rather doubtful and ambiguous statement. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will clear it up.

There are many other questions which I feel it would be my duty to put if there were time—such as whether we are having a fair share of the production as well as of the development in this country, whether the French financial contribution will be satisfactory throughout the period of development and particularly whether the French will contribute to the research aircraft that we produce, the HP115, the Bristol 221, the Fairey Delta 2, and the Bristol T118. We want to know much more about noise and the effect that it will have on people over whom this aircraft passes and the surface damage which might arise, and whether there is the possibility of damage to aircraft which may be flying at a lower altitude than this aircraft when it has reached its maximum height.

There are numerous points which require careful investigation and very careful answers, but, subject to these reservations and to these conditions, we welcome the project. My right hon. Friends and hon. Friends and I therefore wish the firms concerned godspeed in this exciting and forward-looking venture.

1.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation (Mr. Neil Marten)

It is a coincidence that I find myself face to face with the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), because I should have been in that ill-fated helicopter with him. I wish officially to congratulate him on his survival.

I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) and other hon. Members for their kind remarks on my assumption of this junior Ministerial post. I am extremely honoured to have been appointed to work with my right hon. Friend in a very far-ranging Department. I also congratulte the hon. Member for Govan on bringing forward this Motion. We all know of the hon. Gentleman's long and sustained interest in aviation matters. On 24th February, 1947, which is going back almost fifteen years, he initiated an Adjournment debate on safety in connection with the jet aircraft then coming into service.

In spite of the hon. Gentleman's great interest, I think that he and everyone would agree that we in this House speak as laymen on this highly technical subject. However, a layman can appreciate the benefit of this supersonic aircraft from the simple example of a businessman leaving London Airport at 10.15 in the morning and reaching New York at 8.15, New York time, in the morning. He would do his work in New York, would then have, I hope, an agreeable lunch hour and would leave Idlewild at 2.30 in the afternoon and be back in London at 10.30 in the evening. That is a concrete example of what, in essence, we are talking about.

I recognise that some of the problems —such as sonic boom, cosmic radiation, and noise—are subjects of continuing research, but we are satisfied that the Government's decision to embark on the development of this aircraft is not only justified but is an imaginative and progressive project which is the result—and the House must recognise this—of an intensive programme of applied research going right back to 1956.

It is, as has been said, a logical development of the aircraft which now fly at the present-day very high speeds. Among the British aircraft, there are the English Electric Lightning and the Bristol 188, while our French partners in this venture have the Mirage 3 and 4. I regard the project as a logical development and as having nothing essentially new about it.

I will deal, first, with the economic points which have been raised in the debate and then the technical points. As to the broad economic problem, there must inevitably be a good deal of uncertainty in any forecast which is made at this early stage in the development of a project concerning its operating economics. Naturally, we have made our own calculations of operating costs on all the evidence that is available. These show that on ranges in excess of 1,500 miles, the aircraft should be comparable with current subsonic jets. I do not propose to quote the figures, because it must be remembered that this is an aircraft which the British Aircraft Corporation plans to sell commercially in the markets of the world. The House will perceive the correctness of that attitude. I know that hon. Members would like to have more information but we live in a commercial world.

In making comparisons, however, the amortisation of development costs is a rather separate matter. For example, it is known that the civil Boeing 707 has benefited greatly from the large orders for military conversions of the aircraft, which have enabled the development costs to be widely spread. In the case of the proposed Anglo-French supersonic aircraft, the extent to which we can seek to amortise the development costs must be determined in the light of events depending, in particular, upon the way that the market shapes and the emergence of any competitors.

It is certainly intended that the Government should participate in the proceeds of sales by virtue of their investment in the project. The extent to which we plan to recover money and our success in doing so much, however, depend entirely upon how the market develops. When making his statement in the House last month, my right hon. Friend said that it was not possible to quantify the share to be borne by the industry and by the Government. I believe that that is accepted.

Mention has been made of the development cost and the estimating of it. The estimated total development cost is £150 million to £170 million, to be divided equally between the two countries. In our estimating, we have tried to be completely realistic and to take account of the experience of other major projects. Any estimates which are produced at this stage, however thoroughly prepared, can be only provisional. We have certainly provided a margin, not specifically in reserve, as the hon. Member for Loughborough mentioned, but a margin in our estimates for unforeseen problems and the consequent tendency for initial cost estimates to be exceeded.

It would be premature to quote the estimated production cost of an aircraft which will not be on offer commercially for some years. It would be wrong to do so. However, some of the wilder estimates which have been canvassed—and they have been canvassed also in another place—may be dismissed out of hand. Furthermore, it must be remembered that this is a smaller aircraft than current subsonic jets and will be made of conventional material.

We are negotiating with both the British Aircraft Corporation and Bristol Siddeley Engines arrangements for a contribution by them towards the launching costs of the project. It is too early to go into details at this stage. In addition, the firms will be tying up their capital and their main power resources to the project and will be deeply committed on production.

The fares structure on aircraft operation depends ultimately on the operating costs of the aircraft employed. One can only say that we expect the operating costs of this aircraft on ranges in excess of 1.500 miles to be comparable with those of current subsonic jets. One cannot say more until we have had more experience with the aircraft.

As the House knows, B.O.A.C. has been keenly interested in the project since its inception. Before the agreement with the French was signed, the Ministry of Aviation came to an understanding with the Corporation about the basis of its participation in the project. This agreement will ensure the close and timely participation of B.O.A.C. in the project while, at the same time, allowing the Corporation full commercial freedom up to a reasonable stage, as is fair, to decide whether to adopt the aircraft.

The hon. Member for Govan also raised the question of short-stage lengths. It is true that this aircraft, like any long-range aircraft, will not be at its most economic on short flights. Nevertheless, short-stage lengths are often useful in helping to filter in and to fill aircraft with passengers for the longer flights such as an Atlantic crossing. Most airlines have a varied pattern of operation and they select aircraft types which are the most economic over the bulk of their routes.

Scheduling difficulties is another point which is being carefully studied, and I have no doubt that it will be dealt with satisfactorily. Not all the aircraft will be engaged on shuttle services across the Atlantic. Many people speak simply of the Atlantic crossing, but the aircraft will not be limited to this. Many of these aircraft, no doubt, will be employed on through services. Indications at present are that satisfactory utilisation figures will be achievable without involving unacceptable departure and arrival times.

In reply to the question whether the Americans will capture the market, admittedly the Americans have greater resources, but we think that they have not yet decided whether to build such an aircraft or settled the basic design to be adopted. The Anglo-French proposals have reached a much clearer stage of precision and we believe that Britain and France have a clear lead over any potential competitor. I should have liked to have dealt with this aspect at greater length, but time does not allow.

The hon. Member for Loughborough asked about the delivery date and whether I expected that it would be in 1970. The answer is that I think and hope that it will be. The first flight of the aircraft is expected to be in 1966 and it should be ready for airline service in 1970.

Several hon. Members have asked about markets. Clearly, we hope to sell some of these aircraft to the Americans and, apart from them, widely over the rest of the world. A number of European operators, including K.L.M. and S.A.S. —in spite of the Financial Times—have long-range routes and as many as 18 airlines fly across the Atlantic. Commonwealth operators are interested. My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) asked specifically whether Qantas was interested. Qantas has shown a keen interest in the project.

Following on from the commercial use of the aircraft, questions have been asked about whether there would be a defence market for this aircraft. At the moment, there is no immediate military requirement for a supersonic transport, but I believe that it will develop in that way. It is bound to do so for the quick movement of our forces strategically. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Govan concerning employment in Scotland. The short answer is that it is impossible at this stage to say, but I will certainly bear the point in mind, particularly after the hon. Member's most courteous speech today.

I now turn, very briefly, to one or two of the technical points which have been raised on cosmic radiation which, I know, is a serious subject for many people. The figure of 2.5 rems, the possible total which crews may receive in a year was based, I must say to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), upon extreme conditions and the most pessimistic assumptions. It is, in any case, well below the level of dosage, as he rightly said, of radiation workers. The records for aircrews—I can give this assurance—will be very closely watched, and we do not expect that there will be any need to vary the normal pattern of operations on this count.

Mention was made of solar flares. This is a particular problem. We are satisfied that warning controls will be devised which will enable evasive action to be taken.

Mr. Lubbock

Can the hon. Gentleman say how that evasive action affects the economic aspect of operations?

Mr. Marten

I know that is an extra problem about fuel consumption. It is a point that is being carefully watched in development of the aircraft. We are giving the most careful attention to this most important subject.

Then there is sonic boom, which has been mentioned around this Chamber today. We are carrying out research work into the effect of sonic boom and are in close touch with the programmes taking place in the United States and in France. There are ways, as the House knows, of minimising the effect of boom, for example, by adopting operating techniques not allowing supersonic boom below certain levels. The evidence so far is that it can be kept at levels which are not objectionable.

I can assure the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. D. Smith) that I have only fairly recently moved from Roehampton and that I am with him on the problem of aircraft noise. Because aircraft climb away very steeply from the airfield the noise at the check point will be less than that made by current jets.

As to the temperature in flying, and the necessity to ensure windows should not break, very considerable engineering efforts will be devoted to this problem to ensure complete safety in this respect. We are absolutely confident that when the aircraft is produced it will be possible to rely on the integrity of the structure as a whole. In the same way as when one flies in an aeroplane today, if one decides to do so one does not think about whether a wing will fall off, or whether a window will blow in or out, as the case may be.

Considerable engineering efforts will be devoted to ensuring that air conditioning is fool-proof and components will be duplicated if there is any doubt. Ice crystals are being investigated with the assistance of meteorological experts and methods are being devised of detecting and of avoiding concentrations of crystals which might be dangerous. The distribution of heat when the aircraft is on the ground, is, too, an engineering problem which is being studied and will be overcome.

Mr. Rankin

It is perfectly clear about the external airframe, but there is a feeling that the 285 degrees Fahrenheit to which I referred is a critical temperature and it is at that point that the structure of the airframe begins to be effective. Will the hon. Gentleman say something about that?

Mr. Marten

Well, I do not want to get involved in too technical points about structure. It is an engineering problem basic to the whole conception of the development of this aircraft.

As to vertical take-off, the feeling was that we should go ahead with this more simple version rather than get involved in complications and the same applies to movable wings.

I think that we must recognise that all countries possessing a major aircraft industry have been carrying out extensive studies into supersonic air transport and that if we fail to go ahead our industry could slip back from the front rank of aircraft constructors and that would have serious effects on the economy of this country. On the other hand, if Government Departments do embark on this transport it will mean that our industry will remain in the forefront and, I believe, increase its share in the world market for transport aircraft. It will also greatly contribute to our technological advances in the fields of metals, fluids, electronics.

It is particularly in this field of sophisticated production that the future of Britain, in part, lies. After all, we produced the first turbo-jet, we produced the first turbo-prop in use in commercial airlines, and I believe that, here again, in conjunction with our French friends, we shall produce the first supersonic civil transport for airlines. I believe that we must grab this opportunity with both hands and dash away with the prize. In so doing, we must not forget to pay our tribute to those in both industry and Government who have pioneered this exciting project.

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