HL Deb 17 March 1971 vol 316 cc436-8

2.40 p.m.


My Lords I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what representations they have received from the British Air Line Pilots' Association about the introduction of the Mediator air traffic control system, and what steps have been taken to meet the representations that have been made.]


My Lords, in the year before the first phase of the Mediator system of air traffic control was introduced on February 1, 1971, there was correspondence with the British Air Line Pilots' Association on a number of features of the system, and one meeting took place in June, 1970, at which the Department gave a full presentation of the system. A letter received from the Association since the introduction of Mediator dealt mainly with the notification of flight level clearances of aircraft and proposed a meeting.. The Department's reply described the clearance procedure used and suggested a visit to the London Air Traffic Control Centre for a general system demonstration.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that Answer, may I first thank him for clearing up the fact that BALPA have made representations? A good deal of criticism arose because of a statement made by his colleague in another place to the effect that there were no representations. Secondly, in view of the fact that there are still many snags in some aspects of the Mediator system, would it not be a good idea to have a meeting with these men who know something about air traffic control, so that there could be a get-together round a table to discuss those snags?


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, but according to my information BALPA have been invited to pay a visit to the London Air Traffic Control Centre for a general demonstration of the Mediator system in operation. I am sure that at the same time there could be a useful exchange of views.


My Lords, it is one thing to invite someone to go along and look at equipment, but it is quite another to get people round a table to have a proper three-cornered consultation. Would the noble Lord see if he can bring influence to bear to get these people round a table in order to see whether anything can be done to improve the system more quickly?


Yes, my Lords, willingly.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that among those who are actually doing the job of flying aircraft there are grave misgivings arising from the working of this system? Yesterday, in the precincts of this House, I met about twenty B.O.A.C. captains and first officers who expressed to me grave misgivings that those responsible for the theoretical aspects of the system had not realised the practical difficulties that those who fly the aircraft will have to face. Could he not consider having a "teach-in" at London Airport, where those who do the actual job every day of flying noble Lords and others round the world could meet the theoretical scientists and discuss whether the misgivings are justified or, alternatively, whether reassurances can be given to the pilots?


My Lords, I think that would be a good idea. I have said that I will willingly look into this suggestion and ask my right honourable friend to see whether this can be arranged. I should say, in fairness, that the system is being reviewed periodically, in addition to the continuous review which is going on the whole time. The first review indicated that the snags envisaged by BALPA had not materialised, whereas the benefits expected from the scheme had. I think it would be a good idea if the misgivings, if misgivings they are, were to be removed in the way that the noble Lord has suggested.


My Lords, while not seeking to disagree in any way with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and by my noble friend Lord Beswick, would the noble Lord not agree that it is a little unfair to suggest that the many people in the Services, in the Civil Service and elsewhere who are working on this system are merely theoreticians? There are many practical people among them.


Yes, my Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord has restored the balance, and I entirely agree with him.