HC Deb 23 March 1970 vol 798 cc956-9
13. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a further statement on the progress of the Concorde programme.

32. Mr. Sheldon

asked the Minister of Technology how much has now been spent on the research and development costs of Concorde.

Mr. Benn

Prototype 001 is now grounded for a number of planned modifications; 002 flew again on Saturday and will extend the flight test programme up to Concorde's cruising speed of Mach 2. Flights at this speed are likely to take place during the summer. About £410 million of the present basic development of £730 million has now been spent.

Mr. Wall

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when he expects the provisional orders for this aircraft to become firm orders, and also when the 002 will be carrying out her sonic boom trials over this country?

Mr. Benn

I cannot answer either question with absolute accuracy. The orders will depend upon the manufacturers being able to provide performance guarantees, based upon the characteristics that emerge from the tests. I understand that the 002 is likely to go supersonic in the fairly near future, although this must not be taken to mean that the flights up the West Coast flight route will necessarily occur at the same time.

Mr. Sheldon

I appreciate the difficulty of communicating decisions to the House on international projects of this kind, but will my right hon. Friend note that it was disappointing that a number of decisions were taken before this House was notified? Will he make sure that he keeps up the standard of the rest of his Department and the rest of his work by notifying to the House decisions that are taken, when they are taken?

Mr. Benn

I shall do my best. I was criticised by the Select Committee on this matter, and I took this to heart. In the case of an international project, when everything must be agreed internationally at the working level and also at the Ministerial level, it is difficult to be as exact as it is in the case of projects under one's own control, but I am anxious to keep the House fully informed.

Mr. Ellis

Will my right hon. Friend use what influence he has with the Press in order that they may tell a consistent tale about this aircraft? This weekend has been "knock the Concorde" weekend; next weekend the Press will probably be enthusiastic. The Press seems to vary between the two extremes. Many of my constituents in Bristol have a vested interest in this project, and the Press causes them undue alarm when it launches into forays of this kind.

Mr. Benn

Ministers have no influence on Press treatment of matters of this kind. The more that we can put out to the Press and the more material it is given the less inclined will the Press be to put out sensational and unfavourable comment.

Mr. Biffen

How soon will it be before the Minister has sufficient data to enable him to come to a decision whether or not this is a viable economic project?

Mr. Benn

It is very difficult to say, but I would expect that during the course of this year we shall have far more information, based upon the flight tests at Mach 2. When these are completed and the manufacturers know the characteristics they should be able to make these known to possible customers, and it is at that stage that we hope the options will be converted into orders. I cannot put a specific date upon that transformation.

24. Mr. Onslow

asked the Minister of Technology when Concorde will make a trial landing and take-off at London Airport, Heathrow.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology (Mr. Neil Carmichael)

There are no plans for Concorde to make a trial landing and take-off at Heathrow. Concorde is, however, likely to use Heathrow during its programme of route proving and endurance flying. This will probably not start before 1972.

Mr. Onslow

What environmental studies are being made of the noise problems which Concorde is likely to create on approach, take-off and ground running? Does the hon. Gentleman understand that these are very relevant to its acceptability at Heathrow and to the question of the siting of the third London Airport?

Mr. Carmichael

Certainly these are very important questions. Many studies are going on into the effects of the sound which the Concorde will create on landing. We do not expect that they will be any more than the present subsonic jets when the proper engines are fitted. At present, the prototype engines which were put in it for the test runs are not the engines which will be used for landing and take-off at international airports.

36. Mr. Pardoe

asked the Minister of Technology if he will estimate the additional passenger fare necessary to cover Concorde's running costs as a percentage of the present economy fare; and what research his Department has carried out into potential passengers' willingness to pay it.

Mr. Carmichael

The level of surcharge is for the airlines to decide in the light of the traffic they believe Concorde will attract and their judgment how Concorde can most profitably be operated. All the Department's studies suggest that passengers will be prepared to pay a substantial premium to travel by Concorde.

Mr. Pardoe

Bearing in mind that the development costs of the Concorde, now standing at £730 million, have increased five-fold since 1962, can the Minister say what proportion of the development cost he intends to get back for the Government in the fares he is talking about?

Mr. Carmichael

This will depend on just how many sales of the Concorde are made. While there may have been a case at one time for criticising the Concorde, I think that now that it is flying we should recognise it as a very great Anglo-French technological achievement.

Mr. Brooks

My hon. Friend cannot realistically talk about the number of aeroplanes that will be sold until we have an approximate idea of the price at which the Concorde will be offered. Since the price is bound to depend on the size of the levy which we hope to impose to recoup R & D costs, now is the time to know the Department's views on the proportion we should recoup.

Mr. Carmichael

That is hardly a question that can be fully evaluated while the tests are still going on. We must find out how acceptable the Concorde will be to the airlines after the tests. I have no doubt that it will be very acceptable. It will be an aeroplane that will increase their revenue, but we cannot tell them that until we can tell them the findings of the tests.