HC Deb 25 April 1977 vol 930 cc702-4
9. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will seek a meeting with his United States counterpart to discuss possible collaboration over the development of supersonic civil aircraft.

20. Mr. David Price

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what steps he is taking to promote improved marks of the Concorde supersonic airliner; and if these involve extending the current Anglo-French collaboration to include other countries, notably the United States of America.

Mr. Kaufman

When I met the French Secretary of State for Transport on 2nd November last, we decided not to proceed with the manufacturers' proposals to develop a derived version of Concorde for production in the 1980s. On an advanced supersonic transport for the 1990s I indicated that the British Government considered that they should consolidate the knowledge and experience gained on Concorde but that our first task must be to establish our priorities in the subsonic field.

Mr. Adley

Now that the paying passenger has shown, through high load factors on the Washington run, that the customer will pay higher fares for speed, and as the Americans appear to have reopened investigation into their own supersonic programme, does not the Minister of State agree that it would make sense to consider three-way collaboration between Britain, France and the United States not only in the interests of saving money in all three countries, rather than that each should go it alone, but also to ensure a continuing future for the civil aerospace industry in Europe?

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Gentleman is right when he praises the commercial achievement of Concorde on the Washington route. The British Airways route has shown a 93 per cent. load factor, which makes it the most successful single airline operation in the history of civil aviation.

On the question of the future of supersonic flight I have nothing to add, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who represents and has in the past represented aircraft workers, will know that the best prospect of getting early work into our aircraft factories is by developing the possibilities of subsonic projects. That is what we must immediately turn our attention to.

Mr. Price

Is the Minister aware that if we are to optimise the large national investment already spent on Concorde we must at some stage move to a Mark II? It must make sense to do this on as wide a co-operative basis as possible. Europe is not enough. We must work with the Americans on this if the project is to make any economic and commercial sense.

Mr. Kaufman

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman if he is implying that a stretched version of Concorde is an appropriate way of developing supersonic travel. As and when a development for supersonic travel comes, it will have to be a new plane, though based upon the experience gained on Concorde. I agree that any such project would require wide international collaboration, including not only with the Americans but, in my view, probably with the Germans and the Japanese too.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Will the Minister say whether the approach by McDonnell-Douglas has run into the ground or whether he is exploring it further?

Mr. Kaufman

I discussed these matters briefly when I was at McDonnell-Douglas a few days ago. But when my French colleague and I met on 2nd November we agreed that, although we should try to consolidate and build upon the experience we had gained, in the interests of both our aircraft industries it was much more necessary now to get ahead with considering subsonic projects.