HL Deb 12 May 1975 vol 360 cc522-4

2.40 p.m.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

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 whether British Airways have decided to use the TriStar on the London-Belfast route this summer; and, if so, whether their decision has taken account of the unsuitability of Alder-grove Airport and the security problems raised by the embarkation and disembarkation of such large numbers of passengers.


My Lords, I understand that British Airways will start using the TriStar on the London-Belfast route on 1st June. One cannot be complacent on security matters, and the Aldergrove Airport Authority intend to maintain the high security standards at that airport. They are also spending some £200,000 to improve the facilities there for handling the TriStar and the larger number of passengers which it can carry.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister aware that at the moment we have to be at Belfast airport one hour before departture? I understand that when the TriStar starts operating we shall have to be there two hours before departure time. In addition, the airfield itself is not suitable to handle the TriStar, nor is the building. I think that the Government ought to take into consideration the possibility of deferring the operation until such time as these matters have been dealt with.


My Lords, as to the one hour, I should have thought—and I am sure the noble Lord would agree—that it is not too big a penalty to pay if one can ensure greater security. As for two hours, I have not heard anything at all about that; I will find out about it. It seems obvious to me that with the possibility of 200 to 300 passengers more time will be taken, but I am told that there will be more security men available. Moreover, these aircraft, as the noble Lord will know, are going to operate, in the first place, at non-peak hours, so that there should not be an undue strain on the security people there. The other point is that the alterations, on which I am told £200,000 will be spent, should be completed by 1st June, and the taxi-way improvements, and so on, should be suitable for the use of this larger machine.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords. I wonder whether the noble Lord is aware that I am informed by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board that this expenditure will be totally inadequate for dealing with the very grave problems which will arise.


My Lords, a lot of detail is involved here and I do not think it would be profitable to discuss it over the Floor of the House. I gather that there has been a good deal of consultation and correspondence. My understanding is that British Airways are satisfied. with the airport authorities, that it will be possible to accommodate this aircraft at the times at which it is planned to operate.


My Lords, if there is to be no additional convenience to the passengers, and if the operating costs are higher for the TriStar than for existing aircraft, what is the case for introducing it at all and not deferring it, as the noble Lord suggests?


My Lords, I am not sure what the noble Lord means when he says there will be no additional passengers. My understanding is that where the TriStar has operated on the Scottish shuttle there has been an increase in passengers. If it is possible to get the cost of the service down, I should have thought that that was a good thing.


My Lords, is it not true that there is an industrial dispute about the loading and the unloading of TriStars which will prevent this fine aircraft from being utilised on a number of routes during this summer? Could he see whether this could be resolved before the peak traffic of the summer comes about?


My Lords, that is a different matter; I have been trying to get the facts of the Belfast operation and I have not had anything said to me about that.


My Lords, reverting to the Question on the Order Paper, if the TriStar is to be only operated off peak, surely it is not going to attract very high loads.


My Lords, that seems to noble Lords to be a very amusing question. "Off peak" can refer not to the number of passengers travelling on a particular aircraft but to the number of flights going into Belfast at a given time. At the time of day at which the TriStar is operating there are not a lot of other flights.