HC Deb 06 May 1968 vol 764 cc2-6
1. Mr. Fortescue

asked the Minister of Technology what he estimates to be an economic transatlantic payload for Concorde.

The Minister of Technology (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)

Concorde is designed to carry 20,000 lb. from Paris to New York in critical summer conditions, when it first comes into service. This payload is to be raised two years later to 25,000 lb. when improved engines are available. Airlines should find these payloads economic.

Mr. Fortescue

Will the economic payload on these figures—for which I am very grateful—be calculated on a normal transatlantic fare, a premium fare, or first-class fares for all passengers, as compared with other aircraft?

Mr. Benn

This will be subject to international discussion. It is almost inevitable that, to protect the subsonic flights, there will be some differential in supersonic flights, but this is something which we shall have to consider in detail.

2. Mr. Fortescue

asked the Minister of Technology what conclusions about the noise-level of Concorde he has drawn from the recent tests with ground silencers at Toulouse.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Technology (Mr. Stonehouse)

The results of recent tests with a noise attenuator are still being studied.

Mr. Fortescue

I am grateful for that very informative reply. Will the noise on Concorde at take off and landing be higher or lower than or the same as jet aeroplanes at present in service?

Mr. Stonehouse

We intend to achieve with Concorde a noise position similar to that of existing jets, but we cannot be sure about doing so until Concorde is flying.

17. Mr. Brooks

asked the Minister of Technology how many options have now been taken out for the Concorde; by how many airlines; and what is the total amount committed in such options expressed as a percentage of the total governmental expenditure now committed to the development and production stages of the project.

Mr. Benn

Seventy-four delivery positions have been reserved for 16 airlines. Total airline deposits represent just under 1 per cent. of the latest Anglo-French agreed estimate of development costs.

Mr. Brooks

In the light of those figures, would my right hon. Friend indicate whether there are any plans to increase the option payments in due course, and would he confirm that the eventual supply of the airliner will be strictly on a first come first served basis?

Mr. Benn

Arrangements for the ordering pattern have already been made. If my hon. Friend tables a Question on this subject, I will be happy to furnish him with the information. It is true that as the options convert into orders, airlines which wish to buy Concorde will have to come in early to get the aircraft.

Mr. Fortescue

How many options and orders respectively for Concorde does the right hon. Gentleman hope to have by the end of this year?

Mr. Benn

I cannot answer that immediately and I have always been reluctant to make forecasts which depend on factors which I do not control. However, it is obvious that performance guarantees will be required before the options can be made into firm orders. There is an enormous amount of airline interest in Concorde and this has been greatly stimulated in the last 12 months. I think that the hon. Gentleman will be encouraged when the time comes to see how these convert themselves into orders.

21. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Minister of Technology if he has agreed that the Concorde aircraft being built in France shall make its first flight before the aircraft under construction in England.

13. Mr. Pounder

asked the Minister of Technology if he will give an assurance that no directive or instruction will be issued to delay the maiden flight of the British prototype of the Concorde supersonic airliner in order to ensure that the French prototype flies first.

Mr. Benn

Our joint plan with the French has always provided that the prototype assembled in Toulouse should fly first, and that the experience gained should be applied to the second prototype assembled in Bristol. We are continuing to work to this plan, and to afford each other every assistance in the pursuit of it.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does that long Answer mean that this Question could be answered with a plain "Yes"? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, when British technology and engineering have shown themselves once again to be superior to that of France, they should be denied the valuable publicity that would derive from the first flight?

Mr. Benn

As the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, these are identical aircraft, one having been assembled in Toulouse and the other in Bristol. The right hon. Gentleman is trying to pursue an argument which reminds me of the man who wanted to know which blade of the scissors was to cut the paper first.

Mr. Ellis

As many Englishmen are working in France and many Frenchmen are working in this country on this venture, is it not complete sense to regard this very much as a partnership? Is my right hon. Friend aware that to attempt to look at this along lines of narrow nationalism could only harm the project, when we are concerned to see that the aircraft becomes a success and is a tribute to this partnership?

Mr. Benn

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The plain fact is that 001 and 002 must both be a success and that they must both fly as soon as possible if we are to get Concorde orders from the airlines.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Why not have a little healthy competition?

Mr. Benn

The hon. Gentleman must know that on a plan of this kind, it is the engineers who plan the programme of flights. To satisfy some national urge which may be felt in this country or in France and upset the orderly pattern of the flight programme would not be very sensible.

Mr. Hastings

What sort of partnership did we get over the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft? Is there not a lesson here for the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Benn

The Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft has nothing whatever to do with what we are discussing now. If the hon. Member wants Anglo-French projects to succeed and to get orders which will bring benefit to our balance of payments, he should take this aircraft as the opportunity rather than launching his unpleasant attacks on the French which will get us nowhere.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory Answer, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.

26. Mr. Brooks

asked the Minister of Technology how he proposes to ensure that the Anglo-French arrangements for marketing Concorde airliners ensure that half of the total sales will be manufactured in each country.

Mr. Benn

Equal numbers of aircraft will be assembled on the British and French assembly lines, about half the component content of each aircraft being manufactured in Britain and half in France.

Mr. Brooks

In view of the fact that we are talking of a market involving many thousands of millions of pounds over many years, does not my right hon. Friend agree that it would be advisable at this stage to negotiate a legally binding contractual obligation on both countries to divide the market equitably?

Mr. Benn

The current options are equally shared and these have to be converted into firm orders. The production target is on a 50–50 basis. The selling price will be identical and there will be discussion about harmonisation of credit. I think my hon. Friend need not be anxious on that score.

Mr. Onslow

Does it follow that in the case of the airbus, the split will be on a 33⅓ per cent. basis, instead of on a 50–50 basis? Will he take the opportunity of commenting on the rumours of alarming escalation in the cost of the airbus?

Mr. Benn

That is a totally different question. I understand the hon. Member's interest in the airbus, but I think he had better put down another Question on that.

28. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Minister of Technology what estimate he has made of the production cost of each Concorde on the basis of sales of 100 aircraft.

Mr. Benn

With production costs and selling prices one is entering into an area of commercial judgment as to what the airlines will pay. I do not think it would be right for me to disclose the information sought.

Mr. Jenkins

Cannot my right hon. Friend at least say whether it is contemplated that the price paid will exceed the production cost and whether any contribution will be made towards research and development?

Mr. Benn

We are expecting to get back a proportion of the cost of research and development, although obviously not the whole of that cost. The production depends very much on what orders are received and it would be difficult to answer my hon. Friend's question even if it were right to give the information.

Mr. Goodhew

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he is expecting to sell more than 100 of these aircraft?

Mr. Benn

I am naturally hoping that with the slippage of the Boeing 2707 the market will go up very considerably, but I always decline to make forecasts which can at best be only guesses on factors still to be revealed and on the conversion of inquiries into firm orders.

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