HL Deb 04 May 1977 vol 382 cc990-2

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, in view of the heavy loss of life in the recent air disaster, whether Surface Movement Indicators (ground radar) could be installed as soon as possible at our major airports, particularly Gatwick, to add to that already in use at Heathrow.


My Lords, this is a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority, who, through the National Air Traffic Services, are responsible for providing air traffic control services and equipment at major United Kingdom airports. I am advised by the chairman of the Authority that the need for Aerodrome Surface Movement Indicator installations at airports other than Heathrow has been fully examined. It was concluded that the facility could probably be justified at Gatwick, and a detailed study relating costs to expected traffic is now in progress. A final decision will depend upon the timing of future developments at Gatwick.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. I should like to ask him whether there will be very much delay in installing this at Gatwick, owing to the enormous increase in traffic there?


My Lords, I understand that once a decision has been reached, and on the assumption that siting and engineering problems are resolved, it would take about 2½ years for the installation.


My Lords, while welcoming the reply of the noble Lord so far as Gatwick is concerned, may I ask whether he agrees that, if it is desirable at Gatwick, it is all the more desirable at airfields with less sophisticated equipment? In the light of a disaster which took place at a less sophisticated airfield, will be noble Lord consider whether this type of installation might be appropriate at other airfields?


My Lords, the Authority watch the build-up of air traffic at other airports, but I am not aware of any study being justified at the moment comparable to the situation at Gatwick. Perhaps I should make the point that it is only at the very busy airports, with a complex taxi-way system, that the cost of this equipment, in terms of both safety and maintaining a smooth traffic flow, can be justified Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the words he has used in the answers he has given show a lack of enthusiasm for a matter which is very important in the public mind at the moment? Does he agree that if we want to retain the high reputation that we have in regard to air safety, such matters as these ought to be looked at with a view to putting them into effect rather quicker than the answer of the noble Lord seems to indicate will be the case?


My Lords, this matter has been thoroughly gone into, as I explained. But I think that it is important to realise that ground radar is only a monitoring tool, and is not a control facility in itself. It is not something from which we must expect too much.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say what part the British Airports Authority will play in the discussions that are now taking place with regard to Gatwick? Is it not the case that the BAA have some responsibility for the movement of ground traffic at their airports?


Yes, my Lords; and of course the Civil Aviation Authority are constantly in touch with that Authority.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that although, as he says, the Civil Aviation Authority are the responsible body in the matter, in the final analysis the Authority are responsible to a Minister, and that where public safety is concerned it might be possible that a Minister would find it necessary to intervene on behalf of the Government?


My Lords, I think that that would be a possibility; but certainly we have not by any means reached that situation.


My Lords, can the Minister say how much it would cost to install ground radar at Gatwick, bearing in mind that already £60 million or £70 million are being spent at Gatwick to improve facilities? Would it not be more important to emphasise the importance of safety, rather than improving the building and so forth?


My Lords, I understand that the cost at Gatwick for this installation would be £400,000.


My Lords, are the Government aware that Gatwick is particularly liable to fog, and will this factor be brought into consideration when they are making a decision in this matter?


Yes, my Lords, that certainly is a factor. This apparatus can see through fog. I believe that it is defeated by torrential rain, but it would be capable of dealing with the normal, or even the foggy conditions of Gatwick.


My Lords, if ground radar costs only £400,000 to install at Gatwick, would the Government consider spending this amount of money on other airports, such as Manchester and Prestwick, which are also fogbound in the winter?


My Lords, I have dealt with the question of other airports in my answer to my noble friend Lord Shackleton. They are under review, but there has been no decision to have a detailed study in those cases.

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