HL Deb 20 June 1979 vol 400 cc984-8

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that it will be for the convenience of your Lordships if I intervene now to answer the Private Notice Question put earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, by repeating a Statement made by my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade in the other place. My Lords, the Statement is as follows:

"Since the CAA suspended the certificate of airworthiness of British registered DC.10s they have been in close touch with the American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and with European aeronautical authorities. The European authorities have had a number of meetings, culminating in a meeting in Zurich on Monday at which new maintenance and inspection procedures for the DC.10 were agreed. The FAA had an observer at that meeting.

"As my right honourable friend explained on 11th June the issue of certificates of airworthiness is a matter for the CAA, which has laid upon it by the Civil Aviation Act of 1971, Section 27(2), the duty to consult the Airworthiness Requirements Board

'on all matters appearing to the Authority to be of significance as respects the standards of design, construction and maintenance by reference to which certificates of airworthiness for aircraft are to be granted or renewed in pursuance of air navigation orders'

and no powers of direction are given to the Secretary of State in this regard.

"The Board of the CAA, having consulted the Airworthiness Requirements Board, decided in the light of the information obtained from the FAA and of the new maintenance and in- spection procedures that they should restore the certificates of airworthiness of British registered DC.10s. This they did yesterday after being satisfied that the aircraft involved had been subjected to the new and more stringent inspection procedures.

"In addition to DC.10s on the British register, other European aeronautical authorities have reinstated the certificates of airworthiness of their aircraft. I understand from the CAA that the FAA have throughout given them the fullest information and co-operation."

That concludes the Statement, my Lords.

3.48 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for replying to the Private Notice Question. I accept that in so far as this country is concerned there are only nine planes involved—six with Laker Airways and three with British Caledonian—whereas in the States there are something over 190 DC.10s. The CAA and some of the European countries have agreed that theirs are airworthy subject to more regular and perhaps slightly more stringent tests from time to time. Despite that, can the noble Lord confirm that according to the Press reports Japan has rejected the Swiss application to land DC.10s in Japan, and that Yugoslavia have still grounded the two DC.10s from their national airline?

The noble Lord says that the FAA throughout have given the fullest information and co-operation, but the fact remains that our DC.10s still cannot land in the United States. I understand that the CAA are satisfied that the pylons are secure, and even if the engine falls off the aircraft would still survive. They are also satisfied that the suspect fork lift truck procedure, believed as a possible cause of the disaster, has not been used on the British DC.10s. But the safety of the passengers must be paramount and of supreme concern to all of us.

The CAA and the Federal Aviation Administration are both responsible for issuing certificates of airworthiness. I accept that the issue of the certificate of airworthiness in this country is a matter for the CAA, but should we not now be considering whether the time has come when there ought perhaps to be one international authority looking at the airworthiness of planes? Will the noble Lord suggest to his right honourable friend that the Government might initiate consultations towards that end?


My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord for repeating that Statement, which is a considerable relief in so far as the DC.10s in this country are concerned, but do the Government feel that the long delays which have occurred and are still occurring on the other side of the Atlantic have been justified? Have they any views on how British airlines—notably Laker Airways, Caledonian Airways and British Airways—can seek compensation for the immense amount of money they have lost and are continuing to lose on account of these delays?


My Lords, I am obliged for the remarks of both the noble Baroness and the noble Earl and I shall deal first with the points made by the noble Baroness. She asked whether we had any comment on the decision by the Japanese authorities not for the moment to allow DC.10s to land in Japan. The answer to that is, I think, that we cannot make any comment on action taken by the Japanese Government, which must of course remain a matter for them. As for Spain, we have no information yet as to whether the Spaniards have decided to allow their DC.10s to fly once more, but we are of course monitoring the position. In regard to landings in the United States, that matter is not yet clear. It is certainly not yet the case that the American Government have said that our DC.10s cannot land, although they have prohibited their own aircraft from operating.

The next point the noble Baroness made was about British maintenance procedures. I can say quite clearly that the Civil Aviation Authority are satisfied that all British operators of this type have followed the manufacturer's maintenance procedures precisely and there is no question of any rogue procedures having been followed in this country. On the question whether we should set up an international authority to certificate aircraft of this type, that is a point which has been considered over a long period of years. We are moving in general towards an international system of aircraft certification, but I am afraid we are a long way from any final decision in that department. To answer the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, speaking from the Liberal Front Bench, the question of delay and compensation as it affects British carriers must I think be a matter for them; if they feel they have been unjustly or improperly treated by the American authorities, then they, if they feel like it, can introduce proceedings in the American courts. But, as regards the delays of the American authorities, we really cannot answer for the American authorities and the actions which they see fit to take; we can only judge the situation as it appears to us.


May I ask the Minister two questions, my Lords? In July 1977 we signed Bermuda II, which gave bilateral agreement as regards certain of our cities and certain cities in America, with access for American aircraft to our cities and for our aircraft to American cities. Which has paramountcy, the Bermuda II agreement or the Federal Aviation Administration in America? It appears to me that the American action is in breach of the Bermuda II agreement.

Secondly, does the noble Lord agree that our civil aviation airworthiness requirements are of a standard which can well be envied by most other countries in the world? Of course there is a risk in flying, as there is a risk in crossing the road or going in a motor car; the only question is whether it is an acceptable risk. Would he not agree that every possible course of action to prevent unnecessary risk has been taken by this most competent authority, which has the respect of us all?


My Lords, I readily say that the Government are absolutely satisfied that the Civil Aviation Authority have very properly discharged their duties in this matter, which of course include consulting the Airworthiness Requirements Board. The Civil Aviation Authority are therefore satisfied that the DC.10s on the British register are entirely fit to fly. As for the point about the Bermuda II agreement which the noble Lord raised, the position is that the certification of aircraft as such is not covered by the Bermuda agreement, although the Americans undertake under, I think, Article 6 of that agreement to recognise certificates of airworthiness issued by the United Kingdom.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to assure us that there is nothing unusual about the Civil Aviation Authority, through the Airworthiness Board, granting a certificate of airworthiness to an aircraft not manufactured in this country? Can he give us some idea of the subjects on which we differ from the FAA in the United States? Will he hesitate very much before making the certificate of airworthiness dependent on an international board? We have a world sense of responsibility and we have executed our duties to a very high standard in this country, and I should therefore be sorry to see it leave this country.


My Lords, as I have said, the Civil Aviation Authority have a duty to satisfy themselves that all aircraft offered for United Kingdom certificates of airworthiness are indeed so eligible, and they have certainly satisfied themselves in this case, including of course making detailed inquiries into all the points that have been brought to their attention. On the question of the automatic certification of foreign aircraft, which I think is the point the noble Earl made, certainly the Civil Aviation Authority do not automatically certify foreign aircraft offered for United Kingdom certificates, even if the aircraft already hold certificates of the country of manufacture.

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