HC Deb 23 February 1984 vol 54 cc967-8
11. Mr. Colvin

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the Lear Fan project.

Mr. Butler

Lear Fan remains a high-risk project, but it also offers the potential for high rewards in terms of the development of a new technology and the generation of jobs in Northern Ireland. At the present time management effort is being concentrated on obtaining airworthiness certification.

Mr. Colvin

Does my hon. Friend accept that as well as being high-risk and having a high profit potential, the Lear Fan project is also high technology in that it breaks completely new ground in its all-composite construction and use of a single gearbox with two turbo-prop engines? That is bound to make certification a lengthy and costly business. What is my hon. Friend's view of the other commercial prospects for wider use of that high technology?

Mr. Butler

My hon. Friend is right to say that it is a high technology aircraft. As a result, certification is taking longer than we had expected. The use of composite materials is not a new concept. I am glad to say that Shorts has been exploiting such technology for some time in making aerostructure parts. The company will be examining whether the materials have other uses.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Can the Minister assure us that the delay in getting airworthiness authorisation and certification is not due to delaying tactics, to allow American-based companies to come in first?

Mr. Butler

I can deny that absolutely. I am fully persuaded that the management is doing all that it can to achieve certification. As I have said, such a project involving new technology is inevitably delayed by slippage in the programme.

Mr. Bill Walker

Is my hon. Friend aware that many right hon. and hon. Members are interested in the project because of the high technology involved in the aircraft design? Will the Department make it possible for interested Members to contact the project managers direct?

Mr. Butler

We are always pleased for right hon. and hon. Members to visit Northern Ireland. The project is important, involving substantial sums of public money. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members would be welcome. Nevertheless, the managers have a job to do and I should not want them to be too distracted from it.

Mr. Soley

Will the Minister take this opportunity to give a clear assurance that the Government are fully satisfied that they are getting all the information that they need, especially of a technical and financial nature, to enable them to judge the future prospects of the company as well as the aircraft?

Mr. Butler

Yes. The financial and technical monitoring exercises that have been carried out are satisfactory. We are getting all the information that we need.