HL Deb 28 November 1956 vol 200 cc640-72

2.50 p.m.

LORD OGMORE rose to call attention to the increasing danger of collision between aircraft in the air, and to urge Her Majesty's Government to seek international agreement on improved safety measures; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel that the subject which I have ventured to suggest for your Lordships' consideration this afternoon is one of importance and urgency. It is important and urgent because, owing to the conditions of the day, there are far more aircraft coming into the sky year by year, and the danger of collisions is becoming ever more serious. I myself have considered this matter for the last five years, since it first came to my attention, and as the years go by I do not feel that we have tackled the problem as it deserves. The first aircraft accident in the form of a collision between two aircraft on one of the main flying routes occurred as long ago as in the years immediately following the First World War, on the service between Paris and London. Since then, from time to time there have been other collisions, although until recently these were not nearly so numerous as one would expect.

One reason for collisions is that there are, in the sky, air highways or air lanes into which aircraft carrying passengers or freight are directed; and as these aircraft approach the great cities or large air termini the air above those places naturally thickens up. As these aircraft have been gathered into the airways, it naturally follows that other aircraft, military or private, are expected to keep out of them. This is not always easy to ensure, because, unlike ground highways, there is no visible marking of air lanes. In a sense, the area is purely theoretical, in that it is between some entirely unmarked points in the sky; it depends to a great extent upon ground traffic control and upon the skill of the aircraft crews as to whether they are in a particular airway or not. Even a slight bump such as would cause very litle damage, except possibly loss of temper and scratched paint, when it involved vehicles on the ground, is inclined to he of the greatest seriousness when it happens in the air.

For some years past, it has occurred to me that some of the air authorities have tended to minimise the risk. Indeed, only a fortnight before the Colorado disaster when, as your Lordships may remember, two great aircraft took off, I believe, from Los Angeles, and not long afterwards crashed into each other while flying in the same direction, with tremendous loss of life, I was discussing this problem With two very experienced pilots, one of whom occupies a very great position in civil aviation. Both pooh-poohed my concern and said that it was virtually impossible for two aircraft to collide in the sky; that the sky was so vast that on the law of probabilities it was almost impossible for that to happen. I am glad to say that one of these gentlemen sent me a letter after the Colorado accident saying that he had changed his mind.

Recent events have tended to give those of us who feel some concern in this field further reasons for anxiety. There is the continued increase in aircraft traffic. There has been the Colorado crash, which I have already mentioned. There is the number of "near-misses," reported in the last two years as some 324, with the probability that many more "near-misses" are either not seen or not reported. There is considerable criticism of military aircraft—N.A.T.O. aircraft— particularly near Paris. There is the presidential address of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, to which I shall refer in more detail in a moment. Then there are two experiences of my own just recently, while flying to West Africa. Approaching the island of Sicily, the captain happened to be talking to me when he suddenly looked out of the window and said: "Good heavens! Look at that aircraft passing us." And there, just below us shot an aircraft. I made inquiries and found that, although we were on an established route, and although our plane had filed a flight card and so on, no information whatsoever had been given to our captain about this other flight. And although the second officer, who was then in charge of the plane, had, in fact, spotted that aircraft, he might well not have done so, and it was no thanks to anybody but him that he saw it.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord if he will give me details of that incident?


My Lords, it was an ordinary B.O.A.C. flight. I mentioned the matter to B.O.A.C. afterwards, and they know all about it.

The next incident, two or three hours later, was when we were taking off from Tripoli at night to fly to Kano, across the desert. We were surprised to find that coming towards us, on roughly the same bearing and at much the same height, was an aircraft which had been completely lost. No one knew where it was except that it was coming towards us. The two aircraft were closing at 600 miles an hour, and it was not a very pleasant experience over the Sahara Desert at night to feel that there was an aircraft coming towards us at that tremendous speed, whose position the air controller did not know. Then there was the recent Vulcan crash, of which no report has so far been published. That did not occur in the air, but it, did involve ground control at London Airport to some extent, although to what extent we do not know. I understand that a departmental committee has quite recently considered and reported upon this subject.

I do not want to appear alarmist, because I am not an alarmist, and I realise that, when one considers the very large number of aircraft, military and civil, flying every day, the number of crashes and "near-misses" is very small. But what I am concerned about to-day is not to pat ourselves on the back for what happens now but to try to ensure that in the future, when there will be far mere aircraft in the air, all possible precautions are taken to ensure their safety, although, of course, we can never absolutely ensure their safety. It seems to me that here we must have regard to certain circumstances. First of all, military aircraft are getting ever faster. Soon they will be flying at near the speed of sound in their normal flights, and, quite frankly, I believe it is very difficult to expect any military pilot, particularly one under training, when flying at 700 miles an hour, to know exactly where he is and the exact position of these unmarked aerial highways in which great passenger liners and other air freighters are flying. Moreover, the speed of civil aviation is also increasing, and soon we shall have civil aircraft flying quite normally at 500 miles an hour.

We were all pleased to see recently that Rolls-Royce now have orders for more than 2,500 turbo-jet propelled air engines, of four different types, for civil aircraft. We should all like to congratulate Rolls-Royce on those orders, for they are very important for British industry as well as for the great firm of Rolls-Royce. But the increased use of these engines does mean, of course, that civil aircraft are going to fly faster and probably higher, and certainly will not be able to loiter very much when coming into airports. Even in clear sky it is doubtful whether there is much time to take avoiding action when aircraft are closing each other at the rate of a thousand miles per hour, especially with the modern aircraft, which seems to give very small opportunities for much vision on the part of the pilot. But in fog or thick weather or at night there is no chance at all if the aircraft are meeting head on, or indeed if one aircraft is faster than the other and approaches it from the rear.

Aircraft companies intend stepping up freight services by 60 per cent. in the next five years. All this means that ground control must be much more accurate than it is now. And it should be standardised; at present it varies greatly. I gather from pilots that some of the control stations are not at all good. London Airport is generally considered to be one of the best, but some others are regarded as not nearly up to that standard: one, Madrid, I am told, is particularly poor. Instruments, too, must be more accurate than they are now. The instrument which records height now at, say, 18,000 feet quite possibly has an error of 500 feet either way. At 35,000 feet—the height at which civil aircraft will soon be flying normally—the error may be as much as 3,000 feet either way. If aircraft are sent into these highways and are expected to fly at certain heights it would be rather disturbing to feel that, without any fault at all on the part of the pilot, the aircraft might be 3,000 feet either above or below the level at which the pilot thinks he is flying. Even to-day, as I say, there may well be an error of 500 feet. In fact, on an aircraft which I travelled in recently there were two altimeters and they showed a difference between their registration of 500 feet. I suppose that in such cases the pilot simply takes the mean average. That may not be a very happy way of doing it, however, for one instrument may be accurate and the other may not.

I have taken some trouble to obtain the views of various authorities concerned with aviation, for they deal with this far more than I do, and their views might not be anything like mine. In fact, I am happy to say that I had prepared the main lines of my speech, and when I received the views of these authorities I found that they were almost identical with my own. I should first like to mention the presidential address of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, to the twelfth annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association which was held recently. The noble and gallant Lord asked me to inform your Lordships that he is sorry he cannot be here to-day. He had intended to be present at this debate, but it was put forward to to-day because the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, fell ill; and, unfortunately this happens to be the one Wednesday up to Christmas upon which Lord Douglas of Kirtleside is unable to be in your Lordships' House. I am sorry that he is absent because, though he might not have been able to speak, he would certainly, by his presence, have added a great deal of weight to what I am saying.

In the course of his very interesting speech Lord Douglas of Kirtleside said this: The coming of the jet will, of course, make the air traffic control problem even more difficult than it is now, but we would do well to recognise that this is a major problem of the present and not just of the future jet age. You must forgive me for striking a slightly sombre note here, but all of us in the industry must be deeply perturbed by the number of cases which are brought to our attention of near-misses between aircraft in the air. In many of these cases investigation discloses that neither pilot was to blame, and I am sure that this is usually the case. But one is obliged to admit that this is a rather sinister conclusion, because in those many cases where the pilot, were not to blame, the corollary is clearly that the rules or the procedure must be to blame. It is a matter of immediate urgency that the rules and procedures should be reviewed to reduce the present danger of mid-air collision. I personally feel quite sure that sooner or later we shall have to devise a fully positive system of control for all aircraft, including military aircraft, operating in civil airways. The problem will get worse, rather than better, as the speed of aircraft increases, and more and more jet aircraft get into the air. I think that we will have to abandon altogether the visual method of avoidance and rely entirely on control methods which will apply at all times regardless of the weather. This cannot, of course, be achieved simply by applying our present bad weather control procedures to all flying. Such a step would put an impossible brake on air traffic development. What is needed now is that a concerted international attack should he made on the technical problems of semi-automatic control. International co-operation is essential in this field because we have had far too many examples in recent years of different navigational systems being developed on each side of the Atlantic and then some years of squabbling about which system should be adopted as the international standard. I would also add, and I speak here as a former airline pilot, that I believe that an essential supplement to automatic or semi-automatic control devices on the ground are those radar plus television developments which may make it possible to reproduce the essence of full visibility from the pilot's seat at all times. It will be remembered that the noble Lord was then talking to international experts from all over the world. I made inquiries from the Air League of the British Empire. Here is their answer: What still causes Council some concern is the risk of collisions in marginal conditions which are apt to develop rapidly over this country, particularly in winter, and especially in the neighbourhood of large cities where industrial haze develops. You might be disposed to consider putting forward a suggestion that local controllers should be empowered to suspend visual flight rules, at their discretion, to provide for greater flexibility in marginal conditions. It would also he interesting to know whether a study has been made of the possibility of a varying set of minima for VFR adapted to each airport zone's particular traffic and local conditions. They go on to make the suggestion that all aircraft, including light aircraft which fly outside their local aerodromes, must have two-way radio.

The British Air Line Pilots' Association says: The Association considers that one of the contributory causes to the problem is the lack of 'look-out' facilities. Present day crew complements, in some cases only two pilots, and the complexity of flight deck procedure mitigate against keeping a good 'look out.' Until full radar coverage from the ground, plus really effective airborne radar is developed, we feel sure that it cannot be stressed enough to both operators and pilots that an adequate look out ' must be maintained at all times when aircraft are not fully under radar control or cruising under Instrument Flight Rules with the 100 per cent. assurance from Air Traffic Control that the airspace in front, behind and around the aircraft is clear of other aircraft. They put up three points. They say, first, that the problem of crew complement and the associated work-load needs review by a competent authority. Secondly, they say the problem of cockpit window-space needs reviewing by the appropriate technical body. Thirdly, they say, steps must he taken to ensure that the limitations of the present air traffic control systems are made known to every pilot.

The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators have also given me their views —and perhaps I might pause here for a minute to say that it is interesting to note the views of these different bodies of people. As your Lordships will note, they all talk from slightly different standpoints, which I think brings out the complexity of the problem. Of course the Guild and the British Air Line Pilots' Association are dealing mainly with, the regular civil aviation aircraft. The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, represent three categories, airline pilots, test pilots and instructors.

Speaking particularly of the problem of test flying, they say: The difficulties of test flying increase as aircraft fly faster and at greater heights. In this country the weather presents the test pilot with a very considerable problem, coupled closely with which is the fact that Great Britain is a very small and densely populated area. In order to avoid damage to private property the Ministry of Supply has found it necessary to prohibit supersonic flight over land, except at heights above 30,000 feet in some special cases. They go on to say: The fact that experimental flying has to be carried out in the close proximity of airways causes innumerable difficulties and delay, as under these conditions flying can only take place in good weather. Radar coverage provided at present is inadequate to overcome this problem … In order to overcome similar problems, the United States Air Force has set up a test flying establishment at Edwards Air Base, in the Mohave Desert, California, on a salt lake some twenty miles long and fifteen miles wide. The weather in this area is excellent, and the base is away from populated regions. They go on to make this suggestion: The test pilots of the Guild consider that a single establishment should be set up in a suitable location, such as Tripoli, North Africa. The distance between the United Kingdom, and Tripoli is much less than that separating the American companies from their test base. Then, so far as the ordinary pilots, not test pilots, are concerned, the Guild believe that: … some form of official guidance and control is necessary to overcome problems arising from fatigue experienced by flying personnel. I now come to the last of the Associations whose views I am quoting—that is, the Royal Aero Club. They speak from another angle, as one would expect from their great experience and from their care and thought for the private flyer and the owner of small aircraft. After all, when considering these aircraft giants we have to remember that they all came from small aircraft and from people who were often prepared to put their hands in their pockets to build and maintain those "little aircraft" in the early days of flying—many of these pioneers. I am glad to see, are still with us. The Royal Aero Club say: The very valid claims of the light aircraft and glider pilot receive scant attention and consideration, and in recent years he has come off badly when new legislation has been introduced. After giving one or two examples, the Club go on to say that … during a period from May, 1954, to April 30, 1956, inclusive, only three incidents in which there was a possible risk of collision due to a breach of regulations, and one incident in which there was an actual risk of collision not due to a breach of regulations, were recorded in a total of 324 reported incidents. The number of light aircraft and gliders operating during this period was almost 1,000 machines… It is also very necessary that the light aircraft and glider pilot be given greater consideration in the planning of controlled airspaces and airways, as opposed to legislation for flying into and out of such airspace. They feel, with regard to the light aeroplane pilot, that: … much hardship is caused by the large amount of controlled airspace in and around control zones and immediate steps should be taken to free unnecessarily controlled airspace up to 5,000 ft. A further aid to more efficient air traffic control is the use of radio, an expensive luxury to most light aircraft operators, but a luxury which will become a necessity as air traffic density builds up. If some of the money devoted to aeronautical research and development could be devoted to development and production of suitable radio equipment which could be purchased and installed in light aircraft at a reasonable price a great contribution to air safety would be made at a relatively small cost. My Lords, it is interesting to have all these different views, because these various associations deal with the different aspects of this problem, which is a complicated one, as we can see from considering it. Only this week, an interesting note appeared in the weekly News-Letter of the Civil Air Attaché at the British Embassy in Washington. On this problem he says this: A major step in a sweeping plan for the improvement of the U.S. air traffic control system was taken to-day, with the announcement by the Civil Aeronautics Administration of an order for twenty-three long-range radars, the biggest single purchase of electronic equipment in the agency's history. The radars are the heart of a C.A.A. plan announced last April by Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks. The plan is designed to handle a fourfold increase in U.S. air traffic with minimum delay and maximum safety. The new radars will help C.A.A. controllers accomplish this by scanning the skies for all aircraft up to 200 miles away, depending on size and altitude. Raytheon Manufacturing Company of Waltham, Massachusetts, will design and build the equipment, which will cost approximately 9 million dollars. Deliveries will begin next summer. The twenty-three radars ordered to-day will be part of an expanding coast-to-coast traffic control network of more than seventy civil and military radar installations. The network will give controllers a picture of aircraft from 15,000 to 70,000 ft. in virtually all the U.S. airspace, and of aircraft at lower altitudes on densely travelled routes. That gives some indication of what the United States are doing and the amount of money they are prepared to spend to accomplish their purpose.

In regard to this problem, I would make some suggestions to the Government for their consideration. First of all, I would ask the Government to take the lead in approaching other Governments, and also the International Air Transport Association and other appropriate bodies, for research, co-ordination and regulation in the standardisation and improvement of the present system of air control from the ground. That is the first point: we must have a great improvement in air control from the ground—and not only improvement but also standardisation. The second suggestion I would make to the Government is that they should take the lead in initiating or encouraging further research in the perfection of aircraft instruments, especially those recording height. That deals with aids to the pilot which enable him to plot his position with greater accuracy. Thirdly, I would ask the Government to take the lead in initiating or encouraging the development of radar and television devices to reproduce for aircraft crews at all times the quality of full visibility. I am wondering whether it is possible to adapt for the use of aircraft crews the new development of "electronic eyes" referred to by Dr. F. E. Jones in a lecture before the Radar Association. Dr. Jones claimed that these "eyes" can see a domestic electric fire ten miles away by detecting the heat it produces. That is not my claim, but his: I take my information from his speech, as reported in the Press, if this is so, it may he a valuable method of detecting other aircraft. I imagine that aircraft, particularly jet aircraft, throw out a good deal of heat in their passage through the air.

Fourthly, may I ask whether it is possible, by international agreement, to limit for a term of years the cruising speed of civil aviation to, say, 500 miles an hour? I know that people will hold up their hands in horror at this suggestion, and will say that it is restricting progress, and that it must not be done. Personally, I do not think that many of us need to go at more than 500 m.p.h.; and even if we do, it cannot be often. I should have thought we have come to a time in aircraft construction when a limit of that kind, might be helpful. I am not alone in thinking this. General Aler, the President of K.L.M, one of the best-known aircraft lines, has made the same suggestion. He feels that it would be a good thing to limit the speed of aircraft for a time, in order to catch up with research, and perhaps to write off the vast amount of money expended on these aircraft. He has made these proposals because he feels that to develop a. large supersonic transport may take ten years, and, if two prototypes are produced, might easily cost in the neighbourhood of £50 million. I put forward that suggestion not only on the ground of expense but also because of the question of whether it is possible, with aircraft flying ever faster, to preserve their safety as we should preserve it. If we could have some sort of unofficial agreed limit, it would help in allowing our navigational and other instruments to catch up.

Fifthly, I would ask that Her Majesty's Government should give urgent consideration, also, to the views which have been expressed by the various authorities dealing with the problems, to some of which I have referred this afternoon. I commend the various views I have quoted, and I suggest to the Government that they would be well advised to treat the matter seriously and, if possible, to adopt some of the suggestions that I have made. My Lords, I beg to mope for Papers.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to endorse briefly but cordially the proposals and, generally, the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore. I had not seen them in advance, and I am not quite sure whether, in the one case of the speed limit, I would necessarily agree with him. I am entirely in sympathy with his idea, however, and I myself have no desire to travel faster than 500 m.p.h.— or, indeed, at speeds a good deal slower. With that possible exception, about which I should like to think a little more, I stand here to say "ditto" to the remarks of the noble Lord, which were so well-informed and so lucidly put.

I have little of my own thinking to contribute to the debate this afternoon, but I felt that on an occasion like this, and on a subject of this importance— I was for about three years Minister of Civil Aviation— it would be rather lacking in propriety if the debate were left entirely to two other noble Lords. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord. Lord Ogmore, said about the increasing gravity of the problem, and I would echo what he quoted from the presidential address given by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside; that is, the strong opinion that the problem will get worse rather than better. I think we must all agree with that, and must pay attention to the disturbingly large number of "near-misses".

At the same time, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, will agree that over Britain we have been mercifully free from collisions in recent years. In going through the list, I find that we may be said to have had eight collisions in the last eight years, although the number can be quickly whittled down from that. Three of those occurred in displays of one kind or another, and therefore do not concern us this afternoon; and that leaves us with only five in a little over eight years. Two of those took place in fine weather, in the circuit coming in to land, and have little to do with air traffic control, and one occurred late at night, near to an aerodrome, which is also rather outside the main issue we are discussing. Therefore, in actual collisions—not "near-misses", with the problems that they involve—where the procedure of air traffic control is relevant, we come down to two sad crashes that occurred in 1948 and 1949, one at Northolt and the other near Birmingham. I was the Minister when both of those occurred, and very sad they were. The second one, in particular, was an extraordinary crash, because it occurred in perfectly fine weather and the two aeroplanes just ran into each other.

I feel that we must not allow ourselves—and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, will agree—to become unduly pessimistic about things as they are at the moment in this country, although we must reflect that the position is becoming more dangerous almost every day, with these increasing speeds and other developments, and we cannot allow the matter to remain there. I want to repeat the warnings given by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, which have been set out by Lord Ogmore. As I said originally, I want to do little more than endorse the emphasis put on the matter by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, but perhaps I may put a few questions to the noble Earl. Lord Selkirk—he has had notice of the majority of them, although I am not sure that he has had notice of them all. Perhaps I can formulate the questions in this way. First, have the Government considered the use of radar installations provided for the Services to assist in solving the air traffic control problem; or, alternatively, are they satisfied that radar equipment development, or the research side of radar equipment development, is proceeding so that adequate cover can be provided with suitable terminal equipment to enable the air traffic control service to handle the ever-increasing and faster moving traffic?

Secondly, are the Government aware—I should certainly hope they are—that the technical developments now necessary to enable the air traffic control service to carry out this work in future will involve the expenditure of considerable sums of money? I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, is ready to talk finance this afternoon: he talks finance on other occasions in this House, with great benefit, and this seems to be a moment when he might release a few figures in outline. I am informed that every year we spend about £250,000 on the development of the air traffic control service. That excludes the pay of the air traffic control officers; but the actual equipment costs involve us, I think, in an expenditure each year of about £250,000, or possibly more: it could be nearer £500,000. These figures are obviously subject to a wide margin of error, but perhaps the noble Earl will say something about them. I am advised that if we are to do the job properly in the next few years, on the lines that the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, and other experts have in mind, something like an additional expense of, perhaps, £3 million, or even £5 million, will be involved. In other words, in addition to what I might call our regular expenditure of £250,000 a year, something like £3 million to £5 million will be required to be spent, not in one year but over a period of years. As I say, these figures are subject to a wide margin of error, but they were supplied to me, tentatively, by an expert and I have quoted them.

I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, will agree at least on two things: first, that these figures are somewhere near the mark; and, secondly, that the Government have it in mind to meet this expenditure or, at any rate, are prepared to face considerable expenditure in this essential field. Perhaps the noble Earl will be able to say that the Government are ready to spend a good deal more than they are spending now; and I would say to him that general protestations of sympathy and good will will count less than a promise to give us something solid.


Does the figure which the noble Lord has given relate to expenditure on the ground in the national airports, or does it include also any expenditure that may be necessary in adapting existing equipment or installing new equipment in aircraft?


I understand that it refers only to equipment on the ground. I am certain that that is so.


It must mean in the air, and not necessarily on the ground.


My Lords, I am going to dispute the figures, so perhaps we had better not get too involved.


As my figure is going to be disputed, and as it is offered within such wide margins, I am not sure that it is worth pursuing the matter in detail. I have given a figure of £3 million to £5 million over a period of years. That is a general figure, but I think it helps to fix the problem a little. The figure I have given has not been hatched out in my own brain but has been supplied by one of the most able people in this country. If the noble Earl does refute it, I hope it will be not by mere affirmation, but by figures which will be more instructive than mine.

Are the Government satisfied that there is adequate international collaboration on this difficult problem, with particular reference to civil and military co-operation in Europe and with the N.A.T.O. forces? I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, placed that first on his list of proposals, because, when I am talking of collisions over British soil in the British air, obviously that is only a limited way of dealing with the problem, and I hope the noble Earl will say something constructive and uplifting about the international side. To return to another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, is adequate development effort being put into more accurate altimeters for high-flying aircraft? The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, pointed to what is bound to be a disquieting aspect of that subject.

Finally, I would mention a point of which the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has not had notice, and to which I would particularly call his attention for a moment. Is he satisfied that we are adequately staffed in terms of the number of air traffic control personnel now employed? Obviously, in these matters there is always bound to be an argument with the Treasury. No Minister can just decide that he wants more air control officers and expect to get them. This is a vital service, with many lives involved, and I wonder whether these hard-working air traffic control officers are not grossly overworked at the present time. There are several old Ministers of Civil Aviation around me and facing me, but, as I understand the job of air traffic control officer, it is a difficult job for a man who is good at that sort of thing, until it reaches a certain point, and beyond that it becomes impossible. Does the noble Earl share the opinion that the air traffic control officers are seriously overworked? If the position is that some of them are—and I am not saying they are; I am only asking for reassurance—does he feel that we need more air traffic control officers than we have at present? I am not trying to suggest that we are short of them, but I am merely raising the question whether the noble Earl is satisfied we have enough. If he says that we have, I shall certainly take it from him. I felt it right to say something on this topic. I wish to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has said in his very interesting speech, and now I give way to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who, I am sure, will give us a very instructive address.

3:34 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, perhaps I, as another Minister of Civil Aviation, might add a word or two. I believe the whole House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for bringing this matter forward, because it is a subject of great importance at the present time and will become of increasing importance. After all, safety in the air is the most essential thing of all in air transport. It is far more important than speed or anything else. "Safety first" must always be the motto of every air line, and it is one which they all try to achieve and one, which, in the long run and, indeed, in the short run, will bring most traffic to that line. We are all indebted to the noble Lord for the masterly way in which he has deployed this subject, has collected his evidence, and has collated for us so many authoritative opinions.

I would ask only one question of my noble friend who is to reply. Of course, in these matters it is important to get international agreement and international action. But, as I know, and as anybody who has had to conduct international negotiations on this or any other subject knows, it is one thing to get international agreement—though it often takes a good many years to get that—and it is quite another thing to get all the countries who have signed on the dotted line in some International Convention to carry out the undertakings which they have given. But certainly we must try to get international agreement if we can.

I should like to ask the noble Earl this question, and I will explain why in a moment. I take it that, subject to the extent to which we have bound ourselves by international convention—and that is an exercise of sovereignty, and not something that overrides sovereignty—the law still holds that usque ad coelum; that we control, or have the right to control, the air over our land and over our territorial waters up to the firmament. Certainly other countries exercise that right in stopping planes from flying over their territories. If that is so, then we have the right ourselves, unless we have bound ourselves in some other way by treaty, to enforce the safety measures over our own airports where we think that necessary. It has this advantage. Experts argue theories in a vacuum in an international conference (whether it is E.A.T.A. or U.N.O.), and if you cannot test the theories then every expert is going rigidly to adhere to his own point of view. If, on the other hand, you are able to prove by your own action that what you have done is to make flying safer, then you have given an example which is going to be much more effective, by other people following suit, even than signing an international agreement. That is the way we got radar before the war. We set out deliberately to find it. and we did find it, and installed it; and then everybody who had not found it was keen enough to follow suit.

We have certainly discovered some remarkable inventions on ground approach which we have installed at London Airport and at some of our other airports. Therefore, I hope we shall not hesitate to go forward ourselves if we are dissatisfied. That applies particularly to the installation of new equipment, and to the enforcement of flying regulations which we are perfectly free to make. Of course, it becomes more difficult if, as a counterpart to the installing of this new equipment on the ground, aircraft of all nationalities who are to use that airport have to install corresponding equipment in their aeroplanes; but I would not be too afraid of that. Once you can show and prove that you have made flying safe, then I think you will find that most airlines—it applies now to most of the big airlines—will be only too keen to follow suit.

Let me say one word about the suggestion which the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has adopted and which was followed originally, I think he said, by the distinguished chairman of a successful foreign airline.


No. I do not want to mislead the House about this matter. I think the limit of 500 miles an hour was my suggestion.


At any rate, this distinguished chairman adopted a limitation.


The 500 miles an hour is my "cockshy". It is not intended to be too precise.


We will not bind the absent chairman to the 500 miles. Of course, it is an attractive idea that you should limit speed if thereby you can ensure a greater safety; but I am not too sure that, with two aircraft approaching each other, 500 miles an hour will make a great difference as compared with 600 miles an hour. I do not pose as an expert here, but I have talked to operators and constructors, some in America and some here, and there is a considerable difference of opinion whether in civil flying the pure jet is, I will not say ever going to come, but going to come into regular use as quickly as some people think. It may be that the turbojet is going to have a good deal longer life than some people think. Incidentally, speed is not altogether attractive. It is a very good thing to be able to set off pleasantly after dinner and arrive in time for breakfast the next morning. It is not the least attractive to get up your speed to such a rate that you merely have a short, disturbed night in the air, and land at an airport the other side of the Atlantic at four o'clock in the morning.

But attractive as the idea appears, on the face of it, I do not believe that we can limit the speed of aircraft. When a company is looking at its balance sheet and sees that it has an aircraft which will do 500 or 550 miles an hour, it is comfortable to find a nice "stop" order has been placed on future developments of speed, and that the aircraft will have a good competitive working life of seven or eight years. But I do not believe it is possible. After all, the airliner companies will buy what they think is best, and they will probably buy, provided it is safe and comfortable—or they think it is—the faster aircraft. You cannot stop scientific and technical development in an arbitrary way. The development of speed in jet engines and in whatever is going to follow will go forward, and the incentive for it to go forward is that there is a market for it. I do not think you can stop it.

There is another reason, and I think the air experts in this House will bear this out. I am not at all sure that we have not tended here to work in the construction of aircraft a little too much in watertight compartments. I do not mean only in the civil air transport and the military transport—in that, of course, there ought to be an enormous identity of production and use—but I mean also in the bomber and the air transport. The development of the two must largely go forward together, and what you learn on the one in construction, whether it be regarding the frame or pressurisation, or how to deal with new problems that you meet at high speed in the air, should be used in the case of the other. You cannot separate, or you can separate only to a very small degree, the development of the great bomber and the great air liner. I am sure the noble Lord would not suggest for a moment that it would be possible to put any arbitrary or agreed limit upon the speed of a bomber. If you cannot do that, then I do not think you can put it on the air liner. I intervened only for a moment or two to put forward those thoughts. I think the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, will agree that this has been a subject which was very well worth raising.


My Lords. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, after the interesting views he read out to us from the various aviation bodies, whether any comments have been made to him regarding fog dispersal on aerodromes. Perhaps it is not a good moment to ask that question, because fog dispersal requires a great deal of petrol, but there may be a possibility of re-adopting in some way what was known as F.I.D.O. during the war. It is a most important point. I should like to know whether any of our civil aerodromes at the moment are equipped with fog dispersal apparatus.


My Lords, if I may reply to the question put to me by the noble Lord, I would say that as this Motion was concerned with collision between aircraft in the air, I did not make any inquiries on the question he has raised. No doubt, if I had been concerned with accidents to aircraft landing at aerodromes, quite a number of these authorities whom I approached would have given me their views upon it. I agree with the noble Lord that it is an important question, but I did not regard it as coming within the scope of the Motion this afternoon.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, that this is an important subject. It is also a highly technical subject, and when I realise that I am faced with a veritable battery of former Ministers of Civil Aviation and a formidable collection of Marshals of the Royal Air Force, 1 feel a sense of anxiety in speaking to your Lordships on this difficult subject. I would say straight away to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, that the views which he has expressed will be very carefully examined. But I find that I do not quite agree with him on the subject of limiting the development of aviation. I will tell him why.

I remember vividly a Report on aerodromes—some of your Lordships may recall it—called the Maybury Report. I think it was published about the year 1934. It was, I am given to understand, supposed to be a final analysis of the development of landing strips or landing grounds for all time. I believe it was officially published by the Air Ministry. It said that the extreme length of airways was 1,400 yards. Your Lordships know that we have gone to nearly three times that figure already, and I do not think that anyone to-day would speak with any conviction of the limits to which it might go in the future.

I am most anxious to-day to be as clear as I can, and at the same time neither to exaggerate the danger of collision nor, by a careful mathematical computation of chances (which I could do) to pretend that the danger is utterly irrelevant. The real point is this: it is a difference between theory and practice, or, as the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, said, sometimes of experts working in a vacuum. What we really want are examples. I think the answer to it is that numerically collision is not a major hazard of aviation. As the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said, in the last eight years there have been only two collisions involving civil transport aircraft.

I do not think that for that reason one should say that this is not important, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, said, we must not be satisfied with the present. Developments are taking place rapidly; civil aviation is increasing and the speeds of aircraft are increasing. Moreover, looking at the other side, we find that the travelling public are also becoming more critical about delays and any unpunctuality, so that greater pressure is being brought on the commercial companies to fly absolutely on the hour. Accordingly, I think I can say that the object of the Department which I am to-day representing and of I.C.A.O. is that there should be a minimum restriction of maximum air flow. That means, that in order to get the flow there must be a high sense of discipline—


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, and I must apologise for having been called out of the House, but surely he is going a little further than I went and further than the information goes. Surely it is correct to say that there have been eight collisions only, and, so far as we know, in most of them civil aircraft were involved, but only two are perhaps concerned for the reasons that I explained.


I understood the noble Lord to say that there were only two collisions in the last eight years involving civil or commercial aircraft which were in any way affected by the system of control. It is true that there have been one or two accidents connected with racing and things of that character, which seem to me to fall right outside the ambit of the subject we are discussing. That is why it seemed to me that there were two to which we were properly referred.

The first question, which I think is a proper one, is how is this matter controlled? There are in this country two committees which are particularly designated to control it. There is the Interdepartmental Aircraft Control Committee, which is a high-level committee under the chairmanship of Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill, on which the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Supply and the Admiralty are all represented. Under its aegis there is a Directors Panel of Aircraft Control which has the same representation at rather a different level, dealing with detailed planning. These two standing bodies are making continuous efforts to improve standards of safety.

If we turn to the international field, again we find that the International Civil Aviation Organisation has set up two special committees to deal specially with the problems associated with the introduction of large numbers of jet aircraft and greatly increased speed. Here, we already have a useful background knowledge from our experience of operating the Comet. The first of these committees is a fact-finding committee, but the second, and more important, committee is one which they call a task force, and is under the chairmanship of Dr. Edward Warner, who I think stands in high and special regard in the civil aviation world and whose coming retirement will be generally regarded with great regret. This body is specially looking at the sort of problems which the development in aviation will bring about in the field of control.

Finally, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, who raised the point, and to the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, that there is a committee on European Air Space Co-ordination in which the civil and military authorities under N.A.T.O. sit together. This is a comparatively recent development, but it brings together elements which have not previously had the opportunity fully of examining each other's problems. In this way it can examine problems in regard to major air exercises in Europe and give co-ordinated advice to the I.C.A.O. This has been going for only fifteen months, but I am given to understand that it is an effective instrument. In particular, it will deal with one problem which arises occasionally—namely, the control of the higher altitudes. It is rather natural, as you get higher, that you probably want to have a larger control area. None the less, as the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, says, we retain a sense of national sovereignty, and it is just that sort of problem on which this committee is able to make suggestions. I think I may say to the noble Lord, quite frankly, that there is adequate international control, and I should also say that we are taking a lead in making suggestions to that committee. But, as the noble Lord knows, it is not always easy, having taken a lead, to get agreement in regard to what should follow.

I am rather surprised that there has been no reference to the recent meeting of the Guild of Air Traffic Control Officers which was held at the beginning of October. This is a new body, and one of the officers made a forceful and colourful speech, which is, I think, normal with a new body, to give it impetus and a sense of purpose. Perhaps it is a little difficult to know exactly what he has in mind, but I may say that we have asked this body to give a definite statement of what it wants and we shall be glad to hear their practical suggestions. We are examining the question of licensing of air traffic control officers who are not in Government employment. That matter is being considered at the present time.


As the noble Earl has referred to it, would he say what was said in this colourful speech?


As the noble Lord did not refer to the matter I do not propose to go through the speech. I was going to deal with the main points in due course.


Could the noble Earl give us one of the main points?


One of the observations was: "What a strange world we should be living in to-day had we started at the beginning of time with a Ministry of Evolution"—and there were a number of pleasant remarks of that character. But one of the serious suggestions made, which, as I say, we are considering, was the licensing of air traffic control officers, particularly with a view to licensing those who at the present time are not in Government employment. The second point which I would mention is one of real difficulty, and concerns the presentation of information to the air traffic control officer. May I put it in this way. Some of us were familiar during the war with the Operations Room, where we saw a hoard laid out and a number of W.A.A.F.S. or others were engaged in placing pieces on it. This is extremely expensive in manpower; and equally, it is not really sufficiently up-to-date for modern types of aircraft.

What we have to seek, and what the scientists are trying to discover, is how to present five factors so that they can be immediately appreciated. These five factors are: geographical position; height; time; speed and direction. If the air traffic control officer could have these presented to him immediately, so that he can see exactly what he has to do, his job would be enormously fled. That is one of the points which we are examining. We are also examining the possibility of an electronic device which will store the information and present it when required. At the present moment I can say quite frankly that the problem has not been solved and we have to use different means. Those are two of the points—I shall mention some of the others in due course—which were raised by the Guild of Air Traffic Control officers. But I should like to emphasise that we have asked them to give us a clear statement of what they want, and in due course I believe that we shall receive an answer.

The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, asked what was the strength of the air control organisation. There are in the Southern Control Area, including London Airport, 340 people or thereabouts who are constantly, day and night, on duty on control and signalling duties. There are actually 104 control officers and control assistants on duty at any one time in the London area, and their central task is to avoid a collision in the air, I say that to show that there is quite a substantial organisation engaged in this work.

The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, also raised the question of expenditure on equipment. I am given to understand that since the war there has been an annual expenditure on radio and other new equipment of some £350,000. The total annual expenditure on air traffic control services, including staff, works, installation and maintenance is running at a little under £2 million a year. I can tell the noble Lord, moreover, that the annual expenditure on research which the Ministry of Supply consider is, primarily research for the benefit of air traffic control services amounts to about £250,000 a year. I do not say that that is enough, but it shows that these matters are being carefully examined. It is a field in which there is great potential development, but in which development not only is extremely expensive in materials but demands the use of very high-grade manpower.


My Lords, may I break in to clarify what I said, as I think the noble Earl must have misunderstood me, no doubt due to my failure properly to articulate? I understood that at the present time the expenditure on installing new equipment was about £250,000, or possibly more, each year. I also mentioned a figure of £3 million or £5 million as probably the amount that would be necessary as "lump" expenditure over a period of years if we were to deal properly with this ever more difficult situation. All that the noble Earl has said so far refers to the past, and his figures seem roughly in line with mine. He has not yet said anything about the future or about my figure, which is what will be required if we are to put this matter right.


My Lords, perhaps I may write to the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, as these figures can so easily be misunderstood. The figure I gave of £2 million a year includes maintenance, staff, works and equipment. The figure for equipment and new services is about £350,000 a year.

May I now turn to the circumstances which exist at present? I was interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, who, very fairly, gave both sides. He gave quotations to show that more control was required and also quotations to show that less control was required.


My Lords, "desired" not "required".


My Lords, I readily accept the noble Lord's emendation, but he gave quotations on both sides, which was very fair, because it is exactly the problem that we have to examine. The first point that I should like to make is that there are, of course, the control areas, but it makes a great difference whether one is flying in what may be called, broadly, good or bad weather—and here, "bad weather" includes night flying. One thing which has been done recently is to tighten up strongly the definition of the "good weather" rules—what are technically called "Visual Flight Rules". These have been made much more strict than they were. I do not think I need give noble Lords the definitions as they have already been made public. All I will say is that the required horizontal visibility is increased from three miles to five miles.

But I think it is important to remember that responsibility for avoiding collisions must rest with the pilot and must continue to do so for many years to come throughout the world. I will give one reason why: because there is only one man who really knows the weather conditions in which the aircraft is flying, and that man is, of course, the pilot. It is a mistake to think that we can do without the knowledge of the pilot by imposing closer and more strict control from the ground.

A further question which arises here is that of Service and civil aircraft. The difficulty is that in order that both should fully and satisfactorily perform their duties, they must do so in very different ways. That presents a real problem. Service aircraft, like civil aircraft, are free to operate outside control zones and airways. That means that they may fly under, over or outside airways; but if they have to cross airways and cannot obtain a clearance from air traffic, they can only do so by crossing either at the correct quadrantal height, which means flying at a different height according to direction, or, alternatively, when in fighter radar control. This radar control would, of course, show any other aircraft in the immediate vicinity.

This matter has been brought under further consideration recently, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Air, in answer to a Question, said on October 24 [OFFICIAL REPORT (COMMONS), Vol. 558 (No. 210), col. 35]: As soon as the necessary ground and air facilities can be made available the aim should be to require military aircraft to obtain a clearance… before crossing an airway. I should make clear, of course, that in all conditions they must carefully avoid any area likely to be used for holding aircraft, and must not carry out manœuvres of any kind which might reduce the field of vision while flying within controlled air space. Over and above this, we are examining the altitude of the airways and it is proposed to increase this from 11,000 feet to 25,000 feet where civil aircraft traffic warrants it. Moreover, we have been carrying on discussions about the lower limit for airways. I am told that these discussions are continuing, and that it is now agreed that the lower limit shall be 5,000 feet, subject to certain exceptions where it will be reduced to lower suitable levels and extended where air traffic requires it.

Naturally, a good deal has been said on the subject of radar. Radar is, of course, a wonderful instrument. We have taken the lead here, thanks to the inventions of Sir Robert Watson-Watt, to whom we are, and always shall be, indebted, and I think we still hold the lead in certain respects. But it is a mistake to expect too much of radar equipment; nor does it cover the whole country at the present time. I believe it is fair to say that in certain respects we are certainly equal, if not superior, to other countries. A matter which I should like to emphasise—and here I think I am in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has said—is the importance of trying to extend radar cover. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, raised the question of Service radar. That is being used at times, although it is of rather limited value because it is used for a quite different purpose. We are, however, continuing to consider the possibility of using it and to see whether we can combine it further with other systems. We shall certainly have that point in mind if there is any extension of radar, and I can assure the noble Lord that there is an exchange of information at the present time.

I should like next to refer to a general matter—the fact that safety in aviation depends greatly on the accuracy of instruments; and far and away the most important instruments here are the instruments of navigation. If pilots know exactly where they are, they require fewer instructions from the controller, and accordingly it makes it a more efficient control system; and that, in itself, is one of the most important points. I think I have already mentioned a further point, the presentation of the information. At the present time, the consoles or tubes with the radar intruments are brought right up into the control room. It is necessary to get the information sufficiently clearly, and to my mind the present system does not give the co-ordinated picture which would be helpful in all circumstances. On the general subject of airways I would assure your Lordships that these are constantly under review. Recently there has been a review of the London-Amsterdam and London-Brussels airways, which it is hoped will come into operation in the spring of next year. We are looking forward to having a better system and one that is more effective than that in use at the present time.

The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has mentioned "near-misses." I should like to say that we now have a system of reporting "near-misses." Under this system, anyone who has a "near-miss" is supposed to report it to traffic control, and to do so immediately by telephone, in order to enable instruments to be examined and the aircraft concerned to be traced. We hope that in the future these particular incidents will come under much fuller examination than they have done in the past. I am bound to tell the noble Lord that B.O.A.C. have no knowledge of the letter which he sent to them telling them of his experience in Africa. So far, they have been quite unable to trace the incident to which he refers. I apologise for not being able to give the noble Lord any information.


My Lords, I do not know that it is any part of the duty of a passenger to report that an aircraft has been involved in a "near-miss." It happened that in the case which I mentioned I wrote to Sir George Cribbett, the Deputy Chairman, and informed him of the matter. I drew his attention to the fact that I thought it was time everyone concerned in aviation should look into this problem of safety in the air. I can give the noble Earl the date of the incident if he wishes.


I shall be grateful to the noble Lord if he will do so. I would not suggest for a moment that the noble Lord failed in his duty. There is certainly no duty at all upon a passenger in an aircraft to report incidents. What I must say is that this problem of "near-misses" is a complex one, and I think that reports can be very misleading. I think that the figure which the noble Lord quoted—I do not know where he got it from—of recent "near-misses" is misleading. I can only say that the number of "near-misses" which gave rise to any real risk of collision in the last six months—which, of course, includes the past summer—was only two. That was all that came to the notice of the authorities, though quite a number of incidents were reported.


I think it was from the Royal Aero Club that the figure was obtained.


That may be so; but I do not think too much importance should be set on these figures as they stand. The noble Lord quoted Lord Douglas of Kirtleside on the subject of cases in which it was suggested that no one was to blame. I think that if close examination were made it would be found that that statement is not entirely true. What I think is true is that the nature of the punishment may have varied in different places, and indeed an entirely different answer might have been found by different people. I do not think it is true to say that in all these cases no one at all has been found to blame.

Now I will mention a matter to which reference has been made by Lord Pakenham—that of altimeters. I entirely agree that this is an important subject, but I think it is fair to say that altimeters are probably one of the most accurate of all instruments which are used for flying purposes. They are certainly more accurate than speedometers and, I would say, much more accurate than most navigational instruments. I remember the introduction of the Kolsman sensitive altimeter, about sixteen or seventeen years ago, an instrument which was far more accurate than anything we had known before. I entirely agree that we have reached a stage in aviation which speaks volumes for the accuracy of the instruments, seeing that we can rely upon them for spacing aircraft about a thousand feet apart. It is true, of course, that there are errors. A recent technical panel of I.C.A.O. examined very closely the vertical separation of aircraft with particular reference to the accuracy of altimeters. They have identified no fewer than fifteen possible sources of error. Frankly, I do not think the importance of some of these have been fully appreciated previously by the users of altimeters. A great many of these errors can be corrected by careful calibration and testing. We are confident that they could be greatly decreased. I am given to understand that we are shortly adopting an altimeter which is likely to show an error of not more than a quarter of 1 per cent.—that is, 100 ft. at 40.000 ft.

There is one subject which no one has mentioned. I think, and that is airborne search radar. The fact of the matter is that, scientifically, this has not been sufficiently developed at the present time to be of real use. It is not enough to know that another aircraft is in the air unless you also know something of the height at which it is flying, the speed at which it is travelling and the direction in which it is flying. Until all this information can be incorporated in a tube, airborne radar is of relatively small value. Nevertheless, these problems are being examined and certain systems are in production at the present time. The solution of this problem may well be assisted by the introduction of positive or secondary radar but I do not think this is very much use unless all aircraft are using it.

My Lords, I have tried to answer most of the questions that have been asked. May I emphasise that we readily agree that this is a matter on which we have to be very alert and ready to push on with developments. I am sure that this debate will have served a most useful purpose. Certainly such points of development as those which Lord Pakenham and others have emphasised will be noted. The problem in Europe is, I think, reasonably under control, or can be brought under control, at the present time. We are examining the possibility of making aircraft more conspicuous, both by day and by night—possibly by using special lights of great power at night, and also by increasing the range of vision from the cockpit seat. I have emphasised the importance of accurate navigation. I would only say that I think it is fair to submit that we have a reliable system which we are quite ready to improve as it becomes practicable to do so. It is, as I have shown, continually under review.

I can assure the noble Lord that the structure of international air co-operation exists, and there are no questions which cannot be put under examination by those 669 who are competent and experienced in the matter. It is, however, as I ant sure the noble Lord will appreciate, a different matter to get agreement between international organisations, even if you can get them to meet. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for raising this matter. I have tried to give answers as best I can to the questions which have been raised, but this is not a subject on which cut-and-dried answers are always possible But we can, I think, all take satisfaction in the developments in recent years of which noble Lords have spoken arid to which I have referred.

Finally, may I say one word to the noble Lord, Lord Braye. It is true that the development of F.I.D.O. has not shown all the possibilities which we might at one time have liked to see. None the less, there is a new installation which we hope will be more efficient and more effective than the old for the same sort of purpose, and it is being installed for the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation at Marham at the present time. That is as much information as I can give the noble Lord at the moment.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I had no intention of speaking in the debate, but I was extremely interested in the remarks by my noble friend Lord Ogmore, and I should like to say a word about the limitation of the speed of aircraft. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who spoke for the Government, said that he did not intend to look after that particular difficulty, but it really looks after itself. Dealing with the turbo-prop machine, we are at the end of the speed limit, due to the difficulties of gyp-speed in propellors. I know that your Lordships loathe technicalities, so all I need say is that that matter is looking after itself. When we take straight jets, they are well above "Mac-1", or the speed of sound, so that looks after itself. The only real difficulty is to get past "Mac-1" and into speeds of 1,400 to 1,500 m.p.h. Then we get into heat difficulties. But we need not try to deal with that particular difficulty at the moment, because it will not arise for another ten or fifteen years.

What I was rather alarmed about, however, was the satisfaction expressed by the Minister in the present arrangements for safety. We must remember that we have not nearly reached saturation point in aerodromes in this country. In America, at La Guardia, one of the busiest airports in New York, they are extremely alarmed at the number of "near-misses", and a committee is sitting, under General Curtis, to investigate this very point. When jets come in and cannot be stacked, and must be landed for lack of fuel, there is a very different set of conditions than exists at present. They are studying this very question of electronic developments to try to regulate the position.

I consider that at the present moment aviation is in the same position as the railways were when they were run with red flags. One day we must provide it with electronic signalling which will be reliable and will enable aeroplanes to come down safely on aerodromes in conditions of complete invisibility. We are nowhere near that at present. There is a tremendous lot to do in this respect, and I welcome the fact that the noble Lords, Lord Ogmore and Lord Pakenham, are pushing for development along these lines, because if we can lead in this field, we shall have done a great thing towards making aviation a good deal safer.


My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will agree that the Americans are nowhere near the point which he has mentioned.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will agree that, though this is a technical subject, we have had an interesting and valuable debate. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, my noble friend Lord Pakenham for supporting me, and the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, who said some very handsome things. It is the first time I have had such things said about me by the noble Earl; his comments are usually of another kind. Therefore, I am all the more gratified when a bouquet arrives instead of a cauliflower.

I was impressed by what the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, said. The limitation of speed that I mentioned—and I should probably not have mentioned it if General Aler had not done so—is by no means so important as the other matters to which I referred. I mentioned this question to round off, as it were, the suggestions for improvements that could be made in this field, and I do not want anyone to think that I attach undue importance to limitation of speed. I think that the noble Lord is probably right when he says that this question will take care of itself, partly because we are now getting to the limit of speed at which civil aircraft can go, and partly for the reason that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, gave—that, in any event, people do not take kindly to control in these things.

It has been a technical subject, but I am afraid that life is becoming more technical and that debates in your Lordships' House will become increasingly more technical. I cannot think of any better Assembly for discussing such matters, because there are so many noble Lords who know a great deal about them. I cannot say that I am altogether pleased with the Government's reply. I appreciate that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has done his best to get information for us, but it did not impress me—I am sure that it did not impress my noble friend Lord Pakenham; and I gather that it has not entirely impressed the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara—with the fact that the Government are alive to the problems and possibilities of the new age into which we are going. This means that our thinking has to be speeded up. Those of us interested in aviation will read the noble Earl's speech with much interest, and I hope that, in their turn, the Government and he will read our speeches. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.