HL Deb 22 April 1975 vol 359 cc873-82

8.47 p.m.

Lord TREFGARNE rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Air Navigation (Second Amendment) Order 1975 (S.I. 1975, No. 429), be annulled. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise with some disappointment, because I thought noble Lords had all come to listen to me, but bearing my disappointment with fortitude I would ask your Lordships to support me in my endeavours to have this Statutory Instrument annulled. This particular Instrument has four purposes, and I am concerned with only one of them, which is the proposal to replace Articles 47 to 56 of the existing Air Navigation Order with new Articles which further regulate flying duty periods and rest arrangements for flight crew.

The history of this matter is quite lengthy, and I do not propose to go into it in detail, but just recently the Civil Aviation Authority set up the Bader Committee and in due course they reported; and it is largely the results of their recommendations that are now being brought into law. These new proposals, particularly those in the new Article 50, require operators to prepare and have approved a scheme of regulation, as it is called, relating to air crew flight times and their rest periods. That by itself would hardly be an exceptionable proposal, and I would not particularly object to it; nor do I necessarily object to it now, except that at the same time the Authority published in some detail the requirements that they were proposing to lay down, and those requirements are, I believe, in some measure at least, unsatisfactory. However, I do not propose to go into that matter at this time. After all, as has been explained to me by Government Ministers on many occasions, we have set up the Civil Aviation Authority and given them wide powers, quite rightly and properly, and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, who is to reply, answers for the Department and not for the Authority. He has, no doubt, considerable influence with the Authority, but it is not for them that he directly answers.

In anticipation of the Order before us tonight, the Authority have established the Flight Time Limitations Board. The function of the Board, as I understand it, is to interpret the requirements and to advise the Authority upon the acceptability or otherwise of schemes of regulation put forward by operators, as is to be required by Article 50. I should like to say in parenthesis that this system already seems to have been working for six months or a year in anticipation of this Order coming into force. I am not suggesting that this was outside the existing powers of the Authority, because the Authority already has powers under another Article of the Air Navigation Order to approve operations manuals, and it is of course within those manuals that any scheme of regulation, or scheme of requirements for flight times limitations, will be found. But the Authority have none the less implemented these arrangements prior to the passage of the Statutory Instrument before us tonight. I think that they were right in assuming that the Instrument would not be opposed in Parliament, and they were of course aware that the procedure for such an Order is that it passes unless there is a Resolution to the contrary, and they were no doubt of the opinion that there would be no undue opposition to their proposals.

The composition of the Flight Time Limitations Board was not, as far as I can make out, at first made public. I asked the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, about this point some months ago but he was not able to answer me. I must say at once that the Chairman of the CAA wrote to me very fully about the composition of the Flight Time Limitations Board, and I was grateful to him for that. In fact, I found that the members of the Flight Time Limitations Board were all distinguished experts in their own fields, and all of them were held in high regard in their particular areas of activity. However, there was one omission, and that was that there was nobody—and so far as I know there is nobody—on the Flight Time Limitations Board with special responsibility for, or indeed any experience of, the small operators.

When I say "small operators", I mean on the one hand small operators of large aircraft, but also operators of smaller aircraft. The problems of those two groups of companies are not necessarily the same, but it seemed to me that neither of those groups was represented on the Board. I believe that 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. of the work of the Flight Time Limitations Board is concerned with the submissions of the smaller operators, and it is regrettable that the Authority has appeared to have such little regard for the interests of these smaller companies in the arrangements that they are now making.

As I have said, the Flight Time Limitation Board's function is to monitor and approve the arrangements for flying duty times and rest periods, and in that capacity they can really make or break a small company. I know of some instances where projected operations have quite recently had to be abandoned, because of the impact of the new proposals. I know that almost every company has been obliged to employ extra pilots to meet even their existing commitments, and again in the case of almost every certificated operator they have been obliged, or will be obliged, to employ extra clerical and supervisory staff to monitor and control the new requirements. I am not saying that that is a bad thing, but it none the less ought to be recognised that these new arrangements will impose an extra cost burden in respect of flying staff of 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. upon all operators, but particularly the small ones who may be using their air crew more fully than the large companies.

If the Flight Time Limitations Board is in such an influential position, it is surely right that companies should be entitled to make their case before the Board themselves. I regret I must record that in at least one case, to my certain knowledge, permission to appear before the Board has been refused. In other words, companies which have sought to explain the reasons for their proposals before the Board have been refused permission to do so. Those companies' cases —or that company's case, because I am aware of only one case—were presumably considered by the Board on a written submission only, which, of course, any member of the Authority, who was presumably also able to appear before the Board, was able to refute. I suggest that this arrangement is unsatisfactory.

I should like to end by summing up very shortly as follows: first, the Flight Time Limitations Board, although composed of distinguished and expert men for whom we all have great regard, has no one among its number with experience of the smaller operator, who must account for 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. of its work; secondly, the Board's procedures in arriving at its conclusions, which really have a great deal of influence upon all companies' fortunes, do not seem to me to be satisfactory. Not only must justice be done, but it must be seen to be done.

I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, answers tonight for his Department and not for the Authority, and it is for that reason that I have not gone into any further detail on the new proposals which the Authority has advanced, but I am concerned by this Order and I hope that, none the less, the noble Lord will be able to set my mind at rest on some of the points which I have raised. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Air Navigation (Second Amendment) Order 1975 (S.I. 1975, No. 429), be annulled.—(Lord Trefgarne.)

8.57 p.m.


My Lords, the House, and certainly I, recognise the practical experience in aviation matters which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has had, and I am glad that he has felt able to come along this evening and put his views on this highly sensitive aspect of air operations. Before I deal with the specific points made by the noble Lord, maybe I might give rather more background to the Order against which he has prayed.

Soon after it was established, the Civil Aviation Authority concerned itself with the problem of pilot fatigue, and there was good reason, so most of us thought, for this commendable alacrity. It was in November 1972 that the Authority invited Group Captain Bader, whose experience and distinction require no emphasis from me and to whom the noble Lord has paid tribute, to chair an authoritative Committee, which went into the whole question with immense care. They heard evidence from pilots, air line operators, including the operators of whom the noble Lord has spoken, trade union representatives, individual experts and enthusiasts of considerable experience.

The Authority subsequently had prolonged and detailed consultations with all concerned in the industry and made only small modifications and additions to the Bader recommendations before embodying them in the Order and the requirements documents issued under it. Although it may be a little belated, I am sure that the noble Lord and others in the House this evening would wish me to express to Group Captain Bader and to his Committee our gratitude for their most significant contribution to air safety. The general effect of the changes made under the Order, as the noble Lord said, is to tighten up the restrictions on flight times. For example, in addition to the present limit of 100 hours flight time in 28 days there is now a cumulative annual total of permitted flying hours. Previously the maximum limit for each 28 days could have meant in any one year a total log of flying hours of around 1,300, but now flight crew members are not permitted to exceed 900 hours in a year and they are put under a duty to inform their employers about any flying they have done during the 28 days preceding a flight. I gather from what the noble Lord has said that he has no wish to contest this general provision. However, while there are these tighter restrictions, at the same time the system is made more flexible in operation.

The detailed provisions, as the noble Lord said, are not in the Order, but in the requirements documents issued by the Authority. Operators are compelled to submit to the Authority schemes regulating flight and duty periods and to obtain the Authority's approval of those schemes. In addition, the operator is put under a specific duty not to allow a crew member to fly if the employer has reason to believe that that member is likely to suffer from such fatigue as could endanger the safety of the aircraft, and the employer must keep an accurate record of each flight-crew member's flight and associated duties. A similar duty not to fly in such circumstances is imposed on crew members.

Another innovation in the provisions made under the Order is that for the first time detailed restrictions are imposed on the duty hours of cabin crews. Although the Authority is, of course, concerned with safety and not with matters which are the subject of industrial negotiations, cabin crews have, in an emergency, duties of great importance in respect of safety. Although in their case the permitted hours of work are a little longer than that for flight crews, the Authority has, in my view rightly, thought that their duty hours should be brought within the effect of the Order. In order to maintain further flexibility, the Authority has set up a Flight Time Limitations Board. The Chairman of the Board is Group Captain Bader, and it includes among its members civil air pilots, operation managers of airlines, Dr. Sibbald, a distinguished aviation medical expert, and Sir Peter Masefield. The duty of this Board is to consider applications for variation or modification of the Authority's requirements where the circumstances of the operation create difficulties in the application of the Authority's requirements.

The noble Lord has suggested that there should be someone on this Board who represents, as he puts it, or at any rate understands the problem of the so-called third-level operator. Certainly, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, will have heard again these views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. So far as the composition is concerned, it is, of course, the responsibility of the Chairman of the Civil Aviation Board. However, I put this to the noble Lord: when he says that there is none on the Board who understands the problems of the kind of operator he has in mind, I must stress that the Chairman himself has a considerable practical background of precisely that type of operation. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne shakes his head. But if he searches his memory I think he will know that it is the case that Group Captain Bader understood very much the kind of operation, as in the Shell exercise, that needs to be looked at somewhat differently from the scheduled operator. Moreover, there is Sir Peter Masefield. Although he comes with some experience of a nationalised airline, he has always been regarded by me as a champion of the small operator.


My Lords, I am very reluctant to talk about personalities. Nobody is a greater admirer of Group Captain Bader than I am. He is one of our folk heroes, but the Shell exercise was not a public transport operation. Shell were not governed, so far as I know, by any of the regulations which we are now discussing. I have no doubt that they were run along parallel lines, but they were not governed by the regulations, and that is different. So far as Sir Peter Masefield is concerned, of course I have the greatest admiration for his skill and experience, too. It is presumptive of me even to say that, but he was involved in what was then British European Airways. I know that he has since been involved in the manufacture of smaller aircraft but not in the operation of smaller aircraft in a public transport environment.


My Lords, as the noble Lord rightly said, it is not appropriate to discuss in detail personal characteristics. But although it is a fact that Group Captain Bader had the background to which I paid attention, it would be impossible to say he is prejudiced in favour of the large operator against the small one. I know he understands the difficulties that the noble Lord has in mind. Moreover, so far as Sir Peter Masefield is concerned, I should have thought he would certainly appreciate the position of some of the operations that the noble Lord has in mind.

The facts suggest that there is an attitude of sympathy on the part of the Board. I understand that some 64 applications for the variation of a scheme have been processed and some 50 have been granted a variation, either in full or partially. Twenty of 30 more applications are currently being considered. Then there was the case of the helicopters. There were discussions about the special characteristics of their operation after which variations were granted. I confess I cannot understand and have no knowledge of the case to which the noble Lord referred, of someone who was refused permission to discuss the facts of a particular operation. But, as the noble Lord recognises, I have no responsibility here, although he excites my curiosity and I will try to find out what was the explanation in that case to see whether I may clear up any misunderstandings which I am sure there probably were.

The noble Lord said something about making or breaking a small operator. I think I know what he has in mind. I can see the extra expense that can be loaded on to the small operator. But I doubt very much whether he really means that there is any intention on the part of the Board to wield power to make or break an operator. I am also sure he will appreciate that it is not only the case of the pilot or his employer making an application that is important; it is also important to consider the other pilots who have to share the same airspace. I doubt whether there will be anything between us on that score. I know that the noble Lord is aware of it from his experience as a pilot.

I will, as I said, bring this matter to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I can do this quite quickly in telling him what has been said about the composition of the Board. I personally think it would be wrong to have anyone as a representative. I should have thought that those who are now on the Board would be able to listen sympathetically to the kind of case that the noble Lord has in mind. I see no evidence from these figures that there has been an undue rigidity, but, as I have said, I am sure that what the noble Lord has said will be considered.

I think that I shall carry the noble Lord with me in making the general comment that, in the view of the Government, the provisions of the Order and its associated document constitute a major advance in securing the avoidance of dangerous fatigue among aircrews. They are a contribution—I think an important one—to the promotion of air safety. They are not intended to usurp, nor do they do so, the normal processes of industrial negotiation. But they are based on careful consideration of all the factors— medical, technical and social—which, if not carefully checked, can endanger air safety through the effects of fatigue. They represent the outcome of several years of hard and detailed work by the Bader Committee, the staff of the Authority and many people in the world of aviation and of aviation medicine. Having made his point, and having promised him that I will certainly see that it is considered, I trust that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his Prayer.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for that helpful and most sympathetic reply to my comments. I want to make it absolutely clear that I in no way criticise the members of the Flight Time Limitations Board who, I said earlier, command the respect and admiration of us all. I hope that what I and the noble Lord have said will be heard in the right quarters. I think there is a good chance of that and, that being so, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.