HL Deb 01 April 1947 vol 146 cc971-1000

3.41 p.m.

EARL HOWE rose to ask His Majesty's Government, what is the present position with regard to meteorological and air navigational aids, including F.I.D.O. and radio and radar; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I hope your Lordships will bear with me for a moment if I submit a small personal explanation as to how it is that this Motion comes before your Lordships' House today. In the latter part of last year we had a discussion in this House about the necessity for the continuance of petrol rationing, and it was explained by His Majesty's Government that it was necessary to continue to ration petrol because of the dollar expenditure which was involved. At about that time there was a run of bad accidents in the air, and there was considerable agitation in the Press that something should be done about it, particularly in the direction of the extension and use of F.I.D.O. installations. F.I.D.O. installations, of course, depend for their operation on an enormous amount of petrol, and as the motor world had been told that it could not have more petrol because of the dollar expenditure involved, it seemed that further con- sideration might be able to be given to the F.I.D.O. question.

Accordingly, I gave notice: To ask His Majesty's Government: How many F.I.D.O. installations are now operational in the country; how much they have been used in the last year; what fuel is required for use in a F.I.D.O. installation; what is the fuel consumption per hour when in use; what is the cost of (a) Installation; (b) Operation per hour; whether it is intended further to extend the number of such installations in view of the shortage of dollars, and improved radar and radio equipment. That question was placed on to the Order Paper, but on the first occasion on which it was due to come up the noble Lord, the Minister of Civil Aviation, was unfortunately not able to be in his place, and I had to postpone it. On the second occasion when it arose the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, indicated that he might be able to make an important statement of policy if I would draft my question in the form of a Motion. Of course, I was only too delighted to do what I could to help, and so it is that the Motion appears in its present form on the Order Paper.

Since the time when I put my question on the Order Paper I have discovered a little more about F.I.D.O. than I knew at that time. I will return to that matter in a moment or two. I do not want to pose as being in any way an authority on air questions. I have, as a matter of fact, always been extremely interested in the air. I was one of the people who saw the first aviator fly the circular mile outside Paris, and I attended every aviation meeting in the early days of flying, when it was a remarkable thing to see an aeroplane in the air. I was one of the unfortunate spectators on the occasion of the death of the Honourable C. S. Roe, whose name is a household word in this country to-day. Apart from that, my interest in the air is merely as a passenger. I only wish the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for India, could be here to-day to hear me, because he would no doubt be thrilled to think of me, arming myself with my minute piece of chewing gum and stepping on board an aeroplane in trepidation of what might happen. I have been a very frequent passenger in aeroplanes belonging to many different countries, both in war-time and peace-time.

We have recently had, as we all know only too well, an appalling series of air crashes, but I submit, from the point of view of the passenger, that we must adopt a balanced judgment in these matters. It must be remembered that there are occasional runs of bad luck, just as there are runs of good luck. Whenever there is an air crash the Press treat it as being of good news value; it it written up in all its lurid and grim details, and we are told every little thing about it; but we must not forget the great number of aeroplanes which now fly, compared with those which flew in earlier days, and we must bear in mind the enormous number of miles which are flown in perfect safety. While accidents are to be deplored, and while, from the point of view of potential passengers, we must do everything we can to avoid them, we must not be thrown off our judgment by a series of crashes such as we had at the end of last year. We should bear in mind the number of crashes which unfortunately take place on our roads and remember that we do not use our roads any the less because of the great number of accidents on them. One does not have to get into an aeroplane in order to be killed. I think we must look at it from that point of view.

It seems to me, speaking from the point of view of the passenger, that quite a number of these very serious accidents in the air are avoidable. As I see it, there are several dangers which air traffic encounters, the first of which is the danger of colliding with high ground. There are deplorable accidents caused through aeroplanes running into high ground, and that has happened frequently. I am sure that we all can recall a number of accidents which have taken place in that way. Then again, aeroplanes run into moisture-laden clouds and suffer from icing; that is another danger. Then, there are the dangers of running into other aircraft, the dangers of taking off and, particularly, the dangers of landing in conditions of bad visibility.

As to aeroplanes running into high ground, it seems to me that in these days of modern inventions it ought to be possible to fit aircraft with some better means of detection than they have been able to use up to now. There are various systems which can be fitted—and indeed, which have been fitted—and it seems to me that if better means of detection could be used it might help to reduce what appears to be a rather unnecessary type of air crash. As to the question of moisture-laden clouds, icing and the like, better meteorological reports—a continu- ous series of meteorological reports—would be of help. As no doubt did your Lordships, I read the evidence given at the Stowting inquiry recently. I thought it was an extraordinary thing that an aeroplane could leave this country for Bordeaux and that it should not find out until it arrived there that the cloud base was only about 200 or 300 feet.

That is not the only instance of that sort of thing. I have here a newspaper report in which it is said—this apparently occurred towards the latter part of last year—that an aircraft left Brussels for Northolt, and that on arrival over Northolt it was sent by Northolt control to Croydon because the weather conditions at Northolt were too bad. On arriving at Croydon, and having failed to land because the S.B.A. (which, I presume, means the Beam Approach System) was not working, the aircraft flew back to Northolt. Back at Northolt, contrary to Northolt's original instructions, it started to make an S.B.A. approach to the aerodrome, but gave it up because the Northolt S.B.A. was out of action. It was then sent by Northolt to Manston, but conditions there were too bad for Manston to accept it, and so the aircraft returned to Brussels, where weather conditions were bad but where a Radio Range let-down was accomplished. It was apparently a B.O.A.C. machine, which had been fitted out in America with this type of gear, and so it managed to get down at Brussels. What one would like to ask is why Northolt did not know that Manston was impossible for aircraft? If I had been in the aircraft I should have hated to fly backwards and forwards and then to have to go back to Brussels. I should have been terrified.

On another occasion an aircraft bound for Northolt had to return to Brussels, after having been kept in the air over south-east England for more than an hour between about nine and ten o'clock on a very unpleasant night. On that occasion the S.B.A. was not in operation at Northolt, and let-downs were attempted on the Range and M.F. Beacon there. Diversions were being made to Croydon and to Manston, but when the aircraft got to Mansion the S.B.A. was not working there. It seems to me that, whether it was due to failure of instruments, or to lack of liaison between the various air stations, considerable danger was caused to the aircraft concerned. Fortunately, nothing much happened, but the fact still remains that an advance in radar and radio equipment, together with a tightening-up of the reporting of meteorological conditions, might do a great deal to help in cases like that.

With regard to the question of aircraft colliding in the air, when I have been a passenger in an aeroplane I have never been particularly frightened about that. I have always been full of admiration for my pilot and have never sensed that I was in any special danger from the risk of collisions. It does seem, air control being what it is, that this danger is not at any rate an exaggerated one. With regard to aircraft taking off, and so on, accidents are due to engine failure, and it is probably largely a matter of maintenance. But it is a question that should not be and, I know, is not, neglected by those concerned, least of all by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Then we come to the question of landing under conditions of bad visibility. As I told your Lordships, I have frequently been a passenger in aircraft, and on one occasion last year I had to go to Paris. I flew to Paris in a foreign airplane. We left Croydon under fairly good weather conditions, and we expected that the passage would take about a couple of hours or an hour and three quarters. When we crossed the French coast the cloud seemed to close in, and by the time we arrived over the Paris area there was thick cloud below. Of course, I could not tell what wireless signals the pilot was receiving, but I could see that conditions were rapidly becoming very difficult. It was five hours before we landed at Paris, and I imagine the pilot had to do something because no doubt his petrol was getting a bit short. We took a dive down below the clouds, and the next thing I saw was a hill in front of us, and up we went again. We missed the hill, and we missed all the high tension wires which one finds around Paris. We went up again, circled round a few times, and then came down and "made it." But it was not a very happy experience.

There are ways of getting aircraft down, and I want to refer to one or two of them. If the noble Lord, in the course of his reply, could tell us a little about them I think it would do a good deal to reassure many of us, especially if we know that some of these methods are to be used. One method that can be used is the Ground Control Approach System, which I believe was used a lot during the war by the R.A.F. and thought very highly of by them. We know from our papers that it was used at Prestwick, and we know it is now being used at Heathrow. I should like to know whether it is the policy of the Minister of Civil Aviation to encourage the use of the Ground Control Approach System and, if that is so, how it compares with such a system as F.I.D.O., or something of that sort, for getting aircraft down under conditions of bad visibility.

Another system which can help in getting aircraft down I understand is called Distance Measuring Equipment. I should like to know what are the chances of this system, and whether the Ministry of Civil Aviation think that an extension of it will help. I have heard in connexion with the installation of this system that the reason why more use has not been made of it in this country up to now is that there is a certain difference of opinion upon wavelengths. I understand that this system depends largely upon having a standardized wave-length, and that America has one view as to what the standardized wave-length should be and this country has a very different view. I do not know whether that is correct or not, but it would be of considerable interest if we could be told a little more about that.

There is another system called the Approach Control Radar. I do not know whether it is proposed to use this system, or extend its use. I understand there is a further system called the Teleran System, and of course there are several more which I have not mentioned, but I do not want unduly to weary your Lordships with all these things. I want to know which system the Ministry of Civil Aviation favour at the present time, and which of the systems it is the intention of the Ministry of Civil Aviation to develop so far as they can. I should also like to know whether the Ministry have all the scientific assistance they require for the development of these systems. One would like to be reassured that there is an expert team of scientists—"Boffins," I have heard them called—working in a back room somewhere with wet towels round their heads, thinking how they can further develop all these things.

We come next to the F. I.D.O. system. I told your Lordships earlier that I had been able to find out a few particulars with regard to this method. I understand that the F.I.D.O. system at Manston, for instance, when working under full pressure, consumes 470,000 gallons of petrol an hour—the noble Lord will, I am sure, correct me if I am wrong. I am also told that at Manston, at full pressure, it costs £15,000 an hour when in operation. If my figures are correct, your Lordships will see that to land six aircraft an hour in those conditions would cost each aircraft £2,500. F.I.D.O. also requires an enormous number of tanks to contain the petrol which has to be used, and it needs a considerable personnel to maintain it, and so on. If these figures are anywhere near correct, they are far in excess of anything I have ever imagined. My idea of the expenditure of fuel was 80,000 gallons an hour, and I saw a letter, I think from the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, published in the Daily Telegraph a long time ago, stating that it was only 40,000 gallons an hour. The Minister of Civil Aviation, no doubt, has all the figures at his command, and I hope he will tell us what it really costs to run the F.I.D.O. system. I would like to know what the relative merits of the F.I.D.O. system are as compared with some of the other methods I have mentioned. I understand that with a cross-wind the F.I.D.O. system is not very satisfactory from the point of view of the pilot of the aircraft trying to land.

I have said as much as I wanted to say, and probably too much, but, as a passenger, I would like to know a little more about these things, and to be assured that if the S.B.A. system is being used at Northolt, Croydon, Heathrow, Blackbushe and Hurn, it is kept in a reasonable state of preparedness, ready to go into action at any moment. I do not like the idea of aircraft arriving over these aerodromes under very bad conditions, quite unable to do anything about it because the system normally in use is out of action for some reason or another. I am a tremendous believer in air traffic. I want to see it expand, I want to do everything I can to support civil aviation in this country, and the use of aircraft and airliners; but one must remember that when people read a probably exaggerated list of casualties, and read those little paragraphs in the papers such as I have mentioned they feel a little uneasy, to put it mildly. One does hope that the Minister will probe all these matters to the bottom.

There was another case where two aircraft came in to land at Heathrow. One was told not to land, but none the less did land down-wind, and met the other coming up-wind on the runway, and they only just avoided a crash of a very serious nature. In a case like that, does the Ministry of Civil Aviation take any action? There you have the case of a pilot being given definite orders not to land, yet he disregarded the instruction and did land. He landed down-wind, which is a rather hazardous performance, and very nearly met the other aircraft; there were only a few feet between them when they came to rest. One hopes that in a case like that the Ministry of Civil Aviation takes action. We would like to have a rough idea what they do, and what happened in that particular instance. I have not given the Minister notice of this question, so I suppose he will not be able to answer it to-day, but I would like to know in due course if that sort of thing is dealt with by the Ministry. In any case I hope your Lordships will forgive me, for I did not intend to put down the Motion in the form in which it appeared on the Order Paper; but having put it down in that form I have tried to do my best to deal with it. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some information on the few points I have raised I beg to move for Papers.

4.4 P.m.


My Lords, I think the noble Earl who introduced this Motion has given very ample arguments in favour of examining what can be done in order to make civil flying safer and more reliable. I must say that, from his point of view, it is rather fortunate that he had to postpone his Motion, because at the time it was originally put down there had been such a series of crashes in the fog that it would probably have been difficult to persuade anybody that it would be a mistake not to continue with a well-proved system like F.I.D.O. instead of waiting and hoping for something better. For many years now I have been trying to persuade the authorities that the simplest way of dealing with bad visibility on the airfields is to clear the fog off the runway. I personally very much hope that the Minister will not allow himself to be deterred by anything that has been said from using the method of doing this which was used in the war. Thousands of bombers were successfully landed in bad visibility by this means, and very many hundreds were certainly saved from disaster.

I know there is a great deal of prejudice against this method on the part of many persons who do not have to fly in foggy weather. I cannot help feeling that this may be the residue of an understandable resentment on the part of certain people who said, early in the war, that such a device would not work, and who are now naturally not too pleased when they find their predictions falsified by the event. Two arguments are employed against this method. In the first place we are always told—at least we have been told for the last six years, and the noble Earl again suggested it to-day—that we are just on the point of getting infallible radio aids which make it unnecessary to clear the runways. This argument was pressed very strongly some five years ago when Mr. Churchill first asked for experiments to be made on these lines. That was five years ago, and still we have not got safe and foolproof radio aids. Although the Americans have been working hard in this matter it was only in January or February that at least one machine, trying to land in the fog by radio methods in California, crashed with great loss of life.

Even if foolproof radio methods were available there would be reasons for not relying on them entirely. In the first place, only if it is carrying the right sort of instrument can a machine land by radio in bad visibility, whereas any machine, without any such device, can land on an airfield if the runway has been cleared of fog. If we were to rely on radio aids in every machine it would involve us in considerable expense, not to mention loss of useful load, and so on. Moreover, to use radio aids requires a great deal of practice and experience. Every pilot would have to be trained in the use of radio aids, and since some of them—among them, I think, the G.C.A.—require a great deal of conversation with the ground, either all pilots would have to learn the languages of the airfields at which they were going to land or the personnel at those airfields would have to learn the languages of the pilots. These radio methods are not at all simple.

Radio aids for navigation are, of course, invaluable and will always be used—methods corresponding to the L.O.R.A.N. and Gee as we used them during the war. But when it comes to fixing your height to within a couple of feet it is extremely difficult to use these radio methods. After all, how do you measure height from the ground? You send out a radio signal and measure the time it takes to return. The signal travels at 186,000 miles a second, so that to get the distance right within a couple of feet requires very considerable accuracy in your measurement of time. In fact, one does get them fairly accurate, and within a few hundred feet or so they are invaluable. Here one must distinguish between two different aspects of the matter. There is the aspect of getting on to the air-fields. You can fly down the beam or be talked down. Even before this you have to settle the question of bringing in aircraft in the right order and direction, and seeing that they do not collide with one another. This was one of the things which Bomber Command had to solve before it could use these methods at all. It can be done, and I hope will be done, but it does depend to a great extent on very close international co-operation and liaison, and that, I suspect, will be a considerable difficulty when you are dealing with a subject like civil aviation which operates all over the world. None of these things brings you right down to the point of landing, the actual moment when you have to pull back the stick. As to this, in the last resort I maintain that all pilots would far rather see the ground than have any radio aids or any other aid to gauge their height accurately.

Then what about the possibility of the radio aid failing, owing to a technical fault? The noble Earl himself gave innumerable instances of radio aids not working. If the radio aid does not work, not only does it render it ineffective; it makes it positively dangerous. For this reason alone all the pilots I have ever met would rather clear the runway and land in the ordinary manner than rely upon some elaborate new method. The second argument always brought forward when this matter is discussed is the question of expense. It must be remembered that F.I.D.O. was developed in war-time, when cost did not matter and when regularity and safety were the first considerations, but these things have been very much improved since then. I believe there is a special station in California at a place called Arcata—a landing aids experimental station. There, American engineers have developed methods which have cut down the cost of landing by this method to one-sixth. By using high pressure diesel oil they have brought it down to a cost, not of £2,5oo for each aircraft—as I think the noble Earl said—bud to £20 for each aircraft. I think chat the figure for F.I.D.O. he gave, £2,5oo for each aircraft, is quite out of relation to the realities. The Americans have got it down to £4 a minute for running this and it used always to be considered in the Royal Air Force to be possible to bring down a machine in five minutes. The installation is expensive, but not so very expensive when one considers the sort of sums that are spent on airfields. The figure of £37,000 has been given as the cost of installing F.I.D.O. at one major airport.


Does that include merely the piping system or does it take in the tankage as well?


I should not think it refers to the piping system only. The figure was given as the total cost. But tankage will not be a terribly serious matter if the quantities of oil can be reduced, as is claimed.

In my view, if civil flying is to be a success the first essential is safety and the second is regularity of service. There is only one thing more unpleasant than to be kept hanging about on the ground, sometime, for days, for the fog to clear, and that is flying round and round in the air searching for an airfield on which it may be possible to land. And, quite apart from the unpleasantness of such happenings, what about the cost to the passengers (usually in a hurry and with a number of important appointments to keep) of being kept waiting—sometimes for days—beyond their proper time, and perhaps having to be diverted suddenly to some distant airfield, hundreds of miles from the one at which they wanted to land, because of fog, and having to be brought back by train or some other method to their proper destination?

My dilemma is this, and I would like to put it to the noble Earl. If he takes the view that aircraft are frequently troubled by fog then, surely, the need for some device which overcomes this handicap is paramount. If, on the other hand, he holds that it happens comparatively rarely—as indeed is true—then the cost of turning on F.I.D.O. on those rare occasions when it is essential would be negligible. I reckon that an extra sixpence or, at most, one shilling in the £ on the fares would cover the expense, even in a country which is so subject to fog as Great Britain. After all, nobody complains of the cost of installing lighthouses, lightships or fog signalling to safeguard ordinary traffic, although it would work out at a very high price if the whole cost were reckoned against the few journeys on which the signal was essential to save life. The cost of the Trinity House service all round the coasts of Great Britain, if it were set against the few occasions when it is absolutely essential, would seem to show that it is extremely expensive. It seems to me wrong to object to an extra 2 per cent. or even 5 per cent. on aircraft fares to ensure that the service will be safe and regular. Fares must conform to safety standards—not vice versa.

Now that industry is being exhorted to turn over from coal to oil, nobody can pretend that it is impossible to secure the necessary fuel for F.I.D.O. I do not think, therefore, that we need be anxious lest the use of this method of saving life might materially prolong the period of petrol rationing. I hope that nothing which I have said will be construed as opposition to the fitting of the best radio devices for ordinary air navigation and bringing aircraft in to land. All I resist is the failure to use such a well-tried device as F.I.D.O. now, in the hope of finding an effective radio substitute some day. If we go on losing men and machines at the present rate, and holding up planes, sometimes for days at a time, it will be the ruin of civil aviation. In my youth, when I was taught German, I was made to read a play called Nathan the Wise. I shall listen to the Minister of Civil Aviation with some interest to see whether this title is entirely irrelevant to-day.


My Lords, I feel that we should thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for raising this question to-day. It is, in my view, a very fit and proper question to put to the Minister. Although, in the main, it is technical in nature, I think there are a number of quite definite principles involved which can be put squarely to the noble Lord, the Minister of Civil Aviation, in order to get his views on them and to ascertain if they are, in fact, under consideration at the present time. I am afraid that I do not share the view of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, about "Boffins." I think that "Boffins" should exist. But civil aviation should depend on equipment on which "Boffins "have completed their work. Until that point is reached commercial civil aviation should have nothing to do with it. Until then it is a matter for a specialist. But there are certain very general proposals I should like to put, with which I think the noble Lord, the Minister, will agree, and I would then like to examine how far they are being applied, and to see what is being done with regard to them.

First, with regard to radio aids: these should be universal in application. They should be ready and available for use to the maximum extent; and they should be operated to the optimum standard of efficiency. I am afraid that I must put forward some examples in which it appears to me that these principles are not being pursued with the burning enthusiasm which I submit they deserve. I know that it is very easy to quote examples but I suggest that it is necessary, for in what other way can one point an argument to show that apparently the matter about which one is talking has not reached the stage which it might have done? Consider the matter of universality. I believe it is correct that in normal employment, civil aircraft for commercial purposes, operating in Europe, have to carry something like twelve radio sets. That is an enormous number—far too many I should say. Apart from other considerations, it involves great weight and many complexities. By standardization and other means it should be possible to bring about reductions in both these respects. I would like to ask the Minister what is being done with the enormous quantity of surplus war equipment, which might be used in this connexion? Is it being made available to provide a common stock for use over the airfields of Europe?

Another question which I would like to put to the noble Lord is this. Has he succeeded in obtaining any practical measure of agreement in these matters at the conference which is being held in Montreal at the present time, under the name of P.I.C.A.O.? Speaking as a humble member of the public, I must say that it does not seem to me that P.I.C.A.O. speaks with that still small voice of clarity that all can hear, and which I, for one, would very much like to hear. I must say that I have found it very difficult to find out what exactly has been in the minds of those who are taking part in that conference.

Now, a word as to availability. In this connexion, I would like to refer to the S.B.A. equipment which is now being installed. This system is certainly seven years old, and I imagine that it was in operation before the war in substantially the same form as at the present date. But yet we find that so far as civil aerodromes in this country are concerned (I think that I am correct in saying this) only five are equipped with S.B.A. Why should they all not have been so equipped? There must have been hundreds of sets available during the war, and in use, for almost every aerodrome, operational and training, was equipped during the war with one of these sets. I will give a concrete example in the case of Edinburgh. In the early part of 1946 the Under-Secretary of State promised that that aerodrome should have a high level of priority in this matter. It was promised that the installation should be completed in May, then in October, then in February and then in April. I understand that the aerodrome is still not equipped—I am very glad to note that the Minister indicates that is not correct and I am very pleased to hear it. I understood that that aerodrome still had not got that equipment. But to return to what I was saying: I do suggest there can be a much bigger urge forward in the installation of equipment which is already available.

Now I come to yet another matter—that of G.C.A. equipment. This was moved from Scotland to England, and recently it was stated in another place that it was moved for weather reasons. It seems odd to move a thing on account of weather conditions in January. The weather in January can normally be anticipated within certain narrow margins and, in actual fact, the flying weather in January was exceptionally good. In the course of moving this installation, or rather in moving the men who operated it, two things were discovered. First, that the equipment left behind was not in working order. It had been neglected, and it took some time to put in working order. Secondly, it transpired that the Minister who wished to use this G.C.A. equipment had no personnel to operate it, and for that reason was bound to employ Royal Air Force personnel to do that work on his behalf. I would ask the Minister whether he has got a crew to-day who can operate a G.C.A. set, and if not, how many crews has he under training, and how many G.C.A. sets will he be in a position to operate, if at all, in October?

And now what is the standard of operation of equipment that is available? I do not want to say very much about this country—I think on the whole it is fairly good—Out I will quote one rather serious lapse that occurred in the course of the electricity cuts which took place during the last two months. It has been brought to my notice that two pilots were coming in on the S.B.A. beam when the beam faded on account of an electricity cut which was imposed locally. I think in both cases the aerodromes had auxiliary plant, but in one case it took thirty minutes to get the auxiliary plant going. I have brought this up for this reason; safety in flying means thinking at least half an hour ahead of every possible event, and if you do not think ahead automatically then, inevitably, sooner or later you will find yourself in difficulties.

I would like to refer shortly to what the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said about the difficulties overseas. It is obvious that there are considerable diplomatic and other delicate points that cannot be dealt with easily, but it is none the less true that in international aviation there is an obvious community of interests between the nations for the provision and maintenance of good service. I would therefore like to ask the noble Lord what arrangements, if any, exist at the present time for ensuring that suitable channels are available for making representations to countries overseas with regard to hitches or difficulties which may be experienced in the ordinary methods of communication by air.

I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, has said. At the present time there is no sign that we have reached radio blind landings. We cannot alter the weather in this country, and it affects all forms of communication. Certainly it affects flying, and I would like the noble Lord to say that he recognizes that it affects flying, and that no effort is being made at the present time to fly in spite of the weather. Most young pilots reach the stage when they inevitably try to fly in spite of the weather, but they very, soon learn, as all pilots who live learn, that they cannot fly in spite of the weather. I am going to quote one instance which fills me with a certain measure of apprehension. I have seen an instruction from one of the Corporations that they regard the limitations of flying visibility as being 50 yards for take-off, and zoo yards for landing. I suggest that that limitation is much too fine, and might be multiplied fourfold, or even tenfold, with very great advantage. I would ask, if I may, what progress is being made towards the universal application of radio aids? How far has the noble Lord been able to go in making available those aids which already exist, and what steps is he taking to ensure the adequate standard of operation in these aids themselves? What we want is jam to-day, and not jam tomorrow. Too long have radio aids round the corner been held out as carrots to the pilot, while comparatively little has been given to him in the sphere of civil aviation to-day.


My Lords, I am greatly indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for the courtesy he has shown me in the first instance by adjourning the question which he had on the Order Paper some weeks ago, and I must express my sympathy with him for the fact that on two occasions his Motion has been postponed—on the second occasion, by his courtesy to allow the debate on India to take place. I have been greatly interested, and much instructed, by what has been said by the noble Earl and other noble Lords this afternoon. Let me say at once that I have no pretensions at all to being a technical man. I approach these problems, like the noble Earl who moved this Motion, from the point of view of a passenger of long standing, and also as one who has to apply his lay mind to these problems in the situation of the Minister responsible. I bring no technical knowledge to bear on them, but I hope to bring a modicum of business understanding, common sense, and application. Anything I say to your Lordships must be deemed to be an intrusion by me into realms in which I have but little technical knowledge or understanding.

Let me say at once that, from the outset of my appointment as Minister of Civil Aviation, I have made safety the key note of my administration. I agree with what has been said, and I underline it; safety must be our supreme consideration if we are to create and maintain the confidence of the public in civil aviation. Apart from the skill of the manufacturers of the aircraft and of the air crews, there is no greater contribution that can be made to safety than adequate provision on the ground. I would adopt for myself, in regard to the provision for safety, the old Cromwellian maxim: "Neglect no means". That is, indeed, the motto of my Ministry in this respect.

The responsibility for the ground work rests upon my Ministry. It is an immediate, operational and executive responsibility, in contradistinction to the actual flying of the aircraft, which does not fall within the province of my Ministry. I am determined that British civil aircraft and foreign aircraft that come to this island shall have the best ground provision made for them that foresight, hard work, prudence, and, so far as is necessary, expenditure can provide. This ground organization is a very large and complex matter. It does not consist merely of aerodromes themselves, but includes all kinds of things like meteorological forecasts, reporting services, a complicated air traffic control system, an extensive system of land-lines and point-to-point radio for rapid communication between aerodromes or traffic control stations, meteorological offices, radio communication between aircraft in flight and stations on the ground, and also the adequate systems of radio navigational aid which have been the main burden of the speeches made this afternoon.

There are different kinds of aid. There is the Runway Approach Aid, there are the Aids to Short Distance Navigation and Long Distance Navigation, and there are the Aids for Air Traffic Control. But, when considering the development of all these various aids, and others, we must always remember that there is, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, pointed out, an economic limit to the size and weight of equipment that can be installed in any one aircraft. This makes it infinitely desirable to avoid any unnecessary variations in the types of ground aid providing the same service, and it underlines the desirability (which I know the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, is aiming at) of achieving international standardization of these aids in the interests of practical economy on the ground and in the air.

This standardization is one of the most important objectives of P.I.C.A.O.—the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization—and if the still small voice to which the noble Earl referred has not yet spoken with great precision and clarity I hope that the time is not far distant when it may do so, and will then illumine discussion and action. This country is certainly playing a full part in the deliberations that are taking place in Montreal currently with regard to this very important matter. P.I.C.A.O. has made a recommendation for standardization. It has recommended the adoption of a system known as the Instrument Landing System—sometimes known as I.L.S. But that, of course, can only become effective internationally. It is the international aspect that one must bear in mind. It is not merely an insular matter, because we fly overseas and foreign aircraft fly into these islands. We must have standardization and universal application. This I.L.S. will be installed when sufficient equipment is available. I.L.S. gives a pilot guidance, both as to the direction of approach to a runway and for the path along which he should descend for landing.

Military versions of this I.L.S. equipment are installed at two civil aerodromes in the United Kingdom. They are known as S.C.S.5I, and they serve aircraft on international services. Other additional equipment has been ordered but it is not likely to be available for standardization for some time to come. Meanwhile, we in the United Kingdom are proceeding, as an interim measure, to equip more aerodromes with the Standard Beam Approach —the S.B.A. to which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred—and with the B.A.B.S. system—B.A.B.S. being Beam Approach Beacon System. S.B.A. gives a pilot directional guidance for landing and also indications of his position when passing over marked beacons before reaching the runway, while B.A.B.S. is a radar system giving the pilot directional guidance and a continuous indication of his distance from the beacon. At present there are eleven civil aerodromes equipped with S.B.A.—soon to be increased to forty—and there are five installations of B.A.B.S., with two more being brought into operation.

The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, referred to G.C.A.—Ground Controlled Approach —as did the noble Earl, Lord Howe. I am not going to enter into the controversy which arose some time ago as to the movement of G.C.A. to London from Prestwick, and I do not think that the noble Earl raised the question with the idea that on this occasion I should do that. But, as a matter of fact, when the installation was at Prestwick, I did have an opportunity—the first I had—of seeing how it worked. I must say that I thought it was a miracle, the way that aircraft could be "talked down" on to the runway. On the particular instance when I was there the pilot was "picked up" by radio telephone; he did not know anything of G.C.A.; he had never heard of it before; he was told to act in accordance with the instructions given to him by telephone and he was "talked down," from a good many miles away, on to the runway at Prestwick. When I went to speak to him afterwards he said he had never heard anything like it, and had never thought it conceivable that there should be a means of bringing an aircraft down on to the runway by mere speech to the pilot, provided that the pilot implicitly obeyed the directions given to him. It was to me a most illuminating experience.

G.C.A. has been installed at London Airport, and the Royal Air Force, which hitherto alone has been operating G.C.A., has provided a crew for the training of civil crews. There is one crew training now, and other crews are to complete training by October. Subject to recruitment, and the final negotiations for training facilities from the Royal Air Force, the training of the second and third crews will be completed this year—always provided that we are able to recruit the necessary numbers. I will come to the question of recruitment in a moment. Apart from the G.C.A. equipment, to which I have referred, there is a network of such equipment operated by the Royal Air Force in various installations throughout the country so as to give the maximum geographical cover. The more important of these installations are already avail able for use by civil aircraft in emergency, and arrangements are in hand to make all G.C.A. installations available to any aircraft in distress. The problem of helping the pilot to touch down on the runway, following an approach in bad visibility, is being actively pursued by the development of runway and approach lighting systems — intensive lighting systems—which will enable the pilot to establish visual contact with the ground at the earliest possible moment during his approach. Real progress is being made in this direction.

In this connexion, let me say how much I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, said in his speech, that the pilot does require to see the ground. I was told, for instance, with regard to G.C.A., that if there were no human pilot—merely an automatic pilot—you could safely bring your aircraft down on to the runway. But there is a psychological aspect involved, which inhibits a human pilot from surrendering himself entirely to the use of the aid. He must see the ground. There are a variety of Short Distance Navigational Aids. Throughout the kingdom there is a medium frequency direction-finding service provided by an organization of seventeen ground stations, grouped in chains of three or more, and several of them providing a service on two radio channels. I do not think your Lordships would desire me to explain how they work, because it would obviously occupy the attention of your Lordships too long, but I may add that short-range direction-finding stations, used for local homing and air traffic control purposes, arc also installed at twenty-four United Kingdom aerodromes, and will eventually be installed at over fifty.

Apart from these ground direction-finding stations, there are eight medium frequency radio beacons on which aircraft equipped with direction-finding loops can take their own bearings, and an additional twenty-nine beacons are to be installed. There are also ground radar beacons, known as Eureka, on which suitably-equipped aircraft can "home" and obtain an indication of distance from the particular beacon worked. Eureka beacons are installed at six United Kingdom aerodromes, and will be installed at four more. Then there are three radio ranges, each providing an aircraft with guidance along any of four tracks, being maintained at Prestwick, Northolt and Bovingdon, and others are contemplated at Valley Aerodrome, at Dorking, and possibly at St. Mawgan. Finally, in this connexion we are retaining in operation three chains of Gee stations—to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, referred—covering most of England and Wales; and the United Kingdom cover is being extended by the installation of a new chain in Scotland. We are also offering assistance in the extension of Gee cover in Europe. This Gee system is a radar navigational system developed during the war, and used on a large scale by the British and American Air Forces, by which aircraft suitably equipped can ascertain their position rapidly and accurately anywhere within the coverage provided by the ground stations.

Then there are long distance navigational aids. There are high-powered ground radio beacons used with airborne direction finding equipment, long range direction finding stations, and two systems known as Standard L.O.R.A.N. and Consol, to which the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, referred. Standard L.O.R.A.N. is a radar aid by which suitably equipped aircraft can ascertain their position at considerable distances over the sea, though its daylight range is poor over land. The Consol beacons are radio beacons providing similar information but at greater distances over land, and requiring only ordinary communication receivers in the aircraft. The United Kingdom is increasing the number of high-powered ground radio beacons on the Commonwealth trunk routes, and is operating one of the L.O.R.A.N. stations in the organization for the North Atlantic. A Consol beacon is in operation in Northern Ireland, and we may provide them elsewhere in British territory for the Atlantic routes. The United Kingdom is also operating and re-equipping three of the long-range cathode-ray direction-finding stations providing a service over the North Atlantic, the North Sea and Northern Europe.

Special equipment is required for this vitally important matter of air traffic control, in connexion with which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred to a near collision at Heathrow, where the aircraft almost collided on the runway. I have not been able to trace the actual facts, but I believe that a foreign aircraft came within the circuit uninvited, and alighted without recourse to the Air Traffic Control. It came there as a gentle stranger, nobody knowing it was there, because it had taken no notice of, or evaded, or not been in communication with the Air Traffic Control.


Had you any radar at Heathrow to spot it?


I can only tell you the position as I understand it: that the aircraft arrived within the circuit unknown. The radar equipment, as I understand it—I speak purely as a layman—scans a certain area, and if it should not be scanning the particular area from which the aircraft came in it might escape notice. Broadly speaking, I understand that that is the explanation in that particular case. We have search radar equipment known as Approach Control Radar Mark III X installed at the London Airport. This is designed to give the position of aircraft at distances up to twenty-five miles from the airport, the distance being dependent on the size and the altitude of the aircraft.

I must refer to what I know the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has in mind, and that is the problem of implementation. What we desire to do is to provide aircraft with the most comprehensive facilities for safe and regular operation. But the implementation of the proposals is liable to delay for a variety of reasons, some of which are quite outside the control of my Ministry and, indeed, outside the control of the United Kingdom. For example, quite apart from the question of the development and production of the necessary equipment, there is the all-important factor, to which reference has already been made, of the availability of radio frequencies on which the various aids will be operated. There is shortly to be a Convention of the International Telecommunications Union, and it is hoped that a satisfactory allocation of frequencies will be made at that Conference.

But it must not be forgotten that now, in contradistinction to war time, there are many other interests besides civil aviation that require radio frequencies, and we cannot yet be certain that civil aviation will in fact be granted all the frequencies it requires. There is another difficulty, which applies to the S.B.A., to which the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, referred in connexion with some delay at Prestwick (it certainly happened at Renfrew) in securing sites for the installation of the equipment, because this has often to be installed away from the aerodromes but in particular relation to the runways on the aerodromes. It is difficult sometimes to find suitable sites and, when you have found them, to obtain them either on lease or by purchase. Moreover, in some cases the production of equipment must be dependent on further developments and modifications to existing types. Production itself depends in this matter, as in others, on the availability of material staff and manufacturing sources.


The point I made was that S.B.A. equipment was in universal use in war-time. There was no question of producing new equipment. It has been in use, on and off, for seven years.


All the S.B.A. equipment for which we can obtain suitable sites and for which we can obtain the manpower for operation, and so on, certainly is being and will be used. My anxiety to use this equipment to the utmost is no less than that of the noble Earl. There is a great deal of development work to be done, and for that I rely upon the Minister of Supply, upon whose shoulders, indeed, I have placed a very heavy burden, amounting at present to some seventy or eighty projects in the radio development field in which I have a whole or part interest, ranging from major items, such as complete navigational and air traffic control system, to small items of an ancillary nature. It is sometimes asked why civil aviation does not use exactly the same devices as were employed by the R.A.F. for military purposes. In fact, certain new techniques and systems originally developed to meet military requirements are already in use for civil aviation, but a great deal of scientific and engineering effort is essential to adapt them to their new role. Certain systems—I think this is sometimes forgotten—which admirably filled the military operation requirements are costly, according to civil aviation standards (I am not speaking now of money), in weight of airborne equipment and in operating staff who fill the aircraft and on the associated ground stations. Furthermore, our action must be taken within the framework of standardization agreements arrived at internationally.

I would add that, together with other difficulties, there is the difficulty of securing adequate numbers of the right staff. For training purposes my Ministry maintain a training school at Croydon which provides aeronautical conversion courses for qualified radio operators, and which is to be extended to deal with conversion courses covering wider radar systems. New staffs are recruited by means of public advertisements and through the Ministry of Labour. But let me say that the results have been disappointing, particularly in certain grades, such as teleprinter operators. I frankly admit—I regret it—that the recruitment of additional staff is by no means the least of the considerable difficulties which confront us in our efforts to increase and improve our ground services to meet the expanding needs of civil aviation. I shall welcome the assistance of members of your Lordships' House and others who may be able to attract recruits into this field of work.


Could the noble Lord say whether women are employed?


There is no reason at all why women should not be employed. I have not given details of the various equipments at each of the airfields, but let me say at once that London Airport is, as I think I have mentioned previously, the most lavishly and the most comprehensively equipped of any airport in any part of the world. It has a larger range of aids of one kind or another. For the help, as I hope, of noble Lords, I have prepared (and I am very ready to hand it to any noble Lord who is interested) a schedule showing the aids at every United Kingdom airport, together with a glossary of the terms used for the benefit of those who are as little acquainted with some of the technical phrases and terms as I am myself. I will readily make that available to noble Lords, for whose assistance it has been prepared.


May I ask the Minister whether those are all manned or whether staff is still lacking to man them? Before he sits down, would he tell us what the shortage of staff is? Is it hundreds?


The shortage to which I was referring was, in particular, the shortage of new entrants for training. The systems which are set out in the list to which I have referred as being already installed are, of course, systems which are in operation. I want now recruits for the future, both in the limited fields and in the more extended fields, in order that we may expand the facilities we are offering. We are of course entering a period when old systems have to be maintained and when agreement on new systems has yet to be reached. The noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, has emphasized—rather in contradistinction to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and I agree with him—that this blind landing in zero-zero conditions is always round the corner. I like to have something this side of the corner and I have therefore embarked, in association with the Minister of Supply, upon a research into the situation of F.I.D.O. at the present time. There has been despatched to the United States an inter-departmental Mission for the special purpose of exploring the position there. The leader of the Mission is Mr. E. G. Walker, whom Lord Cherwell will no doubt remember as having taken a leading part in the provision of F.I.D.O. during the war. Mr. Walker will have the assistance of Mr. A. C. Hartley, who also took an active part in that work during the war. I think it may be assumed that we are taking the appropriate steps to inform ourselves as to the situation in the United States, although possibly some of the statements which have been made and which have gained currency here with regard to what has been happening in that country may be a little on the optimistic side as matters stand at present.

I must answer some specific questions which have been put to me by noble Lords regarding F.I.D.0. F.I.D.O. is available at two aerodromes in this country. They both belong to the R.A.F. but they are, of course, available for use by British civil aircraft in emergency. One of them is at Manston, and the other, which is at Graveley in Huntingdonshire, acts as a stand-by for Manston, having replaced Woodbridge for the purpose at the beginning of this year. During the year 1946 the installations at Manston and Woodbridge were used for training and practice purposes, and there were no occasions when aircraft had to use them because diversion elsewhere was not practicable. The fuel used in these installations is 70-octane petrol. The fuel consumption depends on the length of the runways to be cleared and the heat output required to disperse the fog at the time. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, gave certain figures which surprised me. I think he mentioned 470,000 gallons per hour.


At full pressure.


And £15,000. My information is this. The runway at Manston is 3,000 yards long, and, in round figures, the consumption of fuel varies from 105,000 down to 32,000 gallons per hour, depending on the actual heat output required. The corresponding consumption for Graveley, where the runway is 2,000 yards long, varies from 74,000 down to 10,000 gallons per hour. As to cost, the capital cost of the installation at Manston was £150,000 and that at Graveley £60,000. As to the cost of operation, based on the figures of fuel consumption I have given the cost of operation per hour would vary from £3,650 to £1,050 at Manston and from £2,600 to £350 an hour at Graveley. The R.A.F. do not at present, I understand, propose to extend F.I.D.O. installations beyond the aerodromes which I have mentioned. The present policy in general with regard to landing in fog is to divert aircraft to aerodromes which are not fog-bound. On the civil side, the installation at Blackbushe is being reconditioned and I expect to have it available for trial purposes next month, although the strength of the present runways would make it impracticable to land neavy aircraft there except in emergency.

I have stated in your Lordships' House before—and I repeat it—that I have, I cannot say more than an open mind, but a perfectly friendly mind towards F.I.D.O. Perhaps I need say no more than that I find myself, speaking for myself, in agreement with the arguments adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, in that respect. I should, however, make it quite clear—and I know the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, will not dissent—that F.I.D.O. cannot be considered in isolation but must be considered in relation to radio navigational aids for runway approach and also aerodrome lighting. I would emphasize what I believe to be the cardinal feature—namely, that quite apart from the scientific possibilities of blind approach landing in zero-zero conditions, there is no doubt the knowledge that a F.I.D.O. installation is available at an aerodrome has an encouraging psychological effect on pilots flying in bad weather and also, I would add, on passengers flying in bad weather. Our task is to provide, and co-ordinate, the aids which enable a pilot to locate the runway, to approach it, and finally to land on it in really bad weather. We shall proceed with our investigations, and as soon as the Mission have returned and reported I shall be in a better position to make a more definite statement than I am on this particular occasion, as your Lordships will understand.


Before the noble Lord finishes, could he say whether any system of radar detection is anticipated which can be fitted in the aircraft itself?


The noble Lord rather anticipated me. I did feel that it was due to the noble Lord that I should perhaps answer briefly one or two specific questions put to me.


Before the noble Lord finishes with regard to F.I.D.O., can he say how the rate per gallon is arrived at in working out these figures? Of course, he does not count the tax on the petrol or anything like that.


I cannot give the breakdown of the figure to the noble Lord, but I would willingly let him know how the figure is calculated.


The noble Lord will agree that if you could use diesel oil there would be a considerable improvement in the cost.


I have that very much in mind, and that may be a solution to our problems. That is obviously a matter into which the Mission will inquire.


Before the noble Lord passes from F.I.D.O., knowing his very strong views about safety, I should like to ask for an assurance from him—we have heard a lot of talk about the expense of F.I.D.O.—that where a question of an emergency landing is concerned no question of expense will enter into the matter at all.


I have always said that economic considerations in regard to civil aviation are secondary to safety, which at all times, and in all circumstances, must predominate. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked me about steps being taken for detection devices in aircraft, and 1 made it my business to furnish myself with some information on the subject. The Ministry of Supply have placed a development contract for about six airborne radar sets to give warning to aircraft of potentially-dangerous ground and dangerous turbulent cloud. This is all very interesting and rather important, because we are in a new sphere and it is a very complicated problem. It is hoped to develop from these sets a device which will give warning of potential collisions with other aircraft. We are working on collision-warning devices, whether for dangerous cloud, 'high ground or other aircraft, as the result of operational requirements first indicated by Transport Command. Observers from my Ministry and one of the Corporations have participated in Transport Command trials in cloud-warning equipment. Towards the end of the year, other equipment will be available for trial in a Corporation aircraft in respect of ground warning, so the matter is in hand and I hope the developments will be satisfactory.

The noble Earl asked about D.M.E. This was discussed at P.I.C.A.O. in November of last year, following demonstrations, both in this country and in the United States, of various D.M.E. equipments. Currently, British civil aviation can use the R.A.F. Rebecca carried on aircraft, and Eureka, the small beacon from the ground which can give distances measuring up to 100 nautical miles. The distances have to be read off the face of a cathode-ray tube and we do not find that so convenient as the pointer and dial presentation at which my Ministry and international specifications aim.

With regard to the Teleran system—which I must confess, in spite of the fact that I am gathering together a gradual knowledge about these things, was new to me—that is a combination of television and radar. The Teleran system was examined by the United Kingdom representatives in the United States and Canada during October and November of last year. The present position is that although the scheme has been extensively worked out, I hope that in July my Ministry may be invited to send experienced observers to preliminary practical demonstrations of the system. I cannot say anything about it until we know whether the theory will develop into practice. There is no P.I.C.A.O. recommendation to introduce this very embryo, though enterprising, scheme as a standard of air traffic control in congested areas.


Can the Minister tell us how it works?


For the sake of greater accuracy I have provided myself with a booklet upon the subject, which I will gladly hand to the noble Lord. It is a combination of television and radar. The noble Earl also asked me as to the adequacy of scientific aid to develop all the various systems. This is a matter very dear to my heart. I believe in the "Boffins," and I think it is very important that we should have the best scientific assistance working all the time.


I never said we should abolish the "Boffins." I do not want to fly with the things they are playing tricks with, that is all.


Side by side with the use of the systems and instruments which we have, and which have proved themselves, with the use of all scientific knowledge we must all the time be developing new methods; and that is the system I am pursuing. My Ministry are in close touch with the R.A.F. Establishment at Farnborough, and also the establishment at Malvern. I am proposing, in regard to radio, for instance, to set up a specially scientific highly-qualified committee, and I am glad to say that not only have I Sir Robert Watson Watt as a consultant, but I also have an offer—which I have accepted—of the assistance of the radio industry to enable us to establish longterm plans for the development of radio in connexion with aircraft. In addition, I am proposing to arm myself with a chief scientific adviser of the highest professional eminence, whose name I will not give until the appointment is confirmed. I hope to have him by my side to guide my uninstructed mind in all these ramifications in worlds which are new to me.

I hope that I have dealt faithfully with at least some part of the questions which have been put to me, and I hope that I may have been able to give some information to noble Lords in the same way as I have received information and instruction from them.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the whole House would wish me to thank the noble Lord for the extraordinary care and courtesy with which he has endeavoured to reply to every point that has been raised by every one during this debate. To me it has been of enormous interest, and I feel very much reassured. I shall be still more reassured when he is able to tell me that Blackbushe, Manston and the other place—I forget its name for the moment—are all run on diesel and not on 70-octane petrol. To burn that petrol in this way is a great shame. With regard to the glossary which the noble Lord mentioned, I hope I shall be one of the favoured few—or the many as the case may be—who will be able to get it. It will be of great interest to me. With regard to recruiting for the various devices to which the noble Lord has referred, I cannot help feeling that it has not been sufficiently publicized. I cannot help feeling that if more publicity were given to the need for getting recruits for working all these various devices, they would be forthcoming in greater numbers than hitherto. Finally, I can only thank the noble Lord again, and beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.