HL Deb 04 April 1974 vol 350 cc1027-9

3.19 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 why Concorde cannot enter service in 1975.


My Lords, before Concorde can start airline services, the aircraft must be granted a certificate of airworthiness for carrying passengers, and British Airways and Air France must have enough aircraft to establish a reliable service. The programme of flight and ground safety testing necessary to satisfy the airworthiness authorities to grant a certificate of airworthiness is not likely to be completed before the end of 1975. On the latest delivery dates, British Airways and Air France are not due to have three aircraft each until April, 1976. Urgent examination is being given by the manufacturers to advancing these delivery dates. This assessment has not as yet been completed.


My Lords, while I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord, is he aware that it has been reported in the Press, and particularly in Flight, that the certificate of airworthiness is likely to be granted earlier rather than late in 1975, and will it be possible for British Airways and Air France to start even a limited service in that year, bearing in mind the great importance that that may have on the project as a whole?


My Lords, as I said, manufacturers are endeavouring to advance the date by which they would get a certificate of airworthiness and it is possible that everyone will be delighted. With regard to the second part of the question, it would be inadvisable to attempt a service before there has been adequate time for crew training. If the aircraft are delivered earlier, it is possible that those preparations also could be advanced.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that almost daily articles are being written about the future of Concorde? Tens of thousands of jobs in the West country and in subsidiary companies all over Britain are at stake. For the sake of all concerned, will the Government consider having an early debate in either or both Houses to get the matter clarified?


My Lords, I would not dispute anything the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Prestbury, has said. Possibly more than anyone in this House I am aware of the truth in what he says. As to a debate, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, has a Question down that will give rise to something of a debate next Wednesday.


My Lords, can the noble Lord give any indication when British Airways are likely, or should be likely, to receive the first Concorde?


My Lords, I did say that the first aircraft will be delivered in October, 1975, and the third in April, 1976.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that no greater disservice can be done to the British aircraft industry than to try and get Concorde into passenger service before intending passengers are satisfied that all possible testing has been done to secure the safe performance of the aircraft?


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is quite right. That is what I have been trying to say, but as I indicated before, if that certificate of airworthiness could be obtained more quickly, the necessary preparations before the scheduled service is begun could, of course, be advanced.


My Lords, can the noble Lord explain something he said in his original Answer? Does one understand that an airline would not be given a certificate to operate Concorde unless that airline had three aircraft in service?


My Lords, if I may say so, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, seems always to try to find some sort of flaw in my answer, no matter what I say. What I said was quite straightforward; the aircraft as a type has to have a certificate of airworthiness before it can operate in service. The airline, as an operating company, requires three aircraft before it can have an adequate backup service, and operate a sufficiently attractive schedule.


My Lords, since we are to have a debate on the subject, can the noble Lord give us some indication of the revised cost of cancellation as compared with the cost of £115 million for completing 16 of these aircraft? This would help the House and those who wish to take part in the debate, when we have it.


My Lords, as I said earlier, the figure of £18 million first announced is being reconsidered in the light of representations which have been made. It is impossible as yet to give a revised figure.


My Lords, as a further supplementary question arising out of the original reply, may I ask the noble Lord whether he will examine the possibility of crew training being carried out by the British Aircraft Corporation prior to delivery of the first aircraft, possibly under cover of a private category of certificate of airworthiness?


My Lords, I used the phrase "crew training", but there are a number of other preparations which have to be made. These preparations can only be made, the training of crews can only take place and the general passenger services laid on by the airline and the operating company. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said, it would be inadvisable to try to rush that process.