HL Deb 28 June 1979 vol 400 cc1666-89

6.2 p.m.

The Earl of KIMBERLEY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their view with regard to British-Aerospace's future aircraft programmes. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. This afternoon, the monitor said: Unstarred Question on the future of British Aerospace". I hope there is a future for it. I should like to start with a quote: In this industry, one can see clearly the direct effect of exports on employment. The prospects are positive. It is now a question of not only maintaining aerospace activity but also of developing it". Who said that, my Lords? It was President Giscard d'Estaing speaking about the French aerospace industry in his opening address at the Paris Air Show. Let us heed his words, and take the same action in our own country.

I therefore hope that British Aerospace and its European partners do not miss the vast market for the middle and late 'eighties and the 'nineties. It is a market which is being presented to us on a golden salver by nearly 3,000 thirsty, noisy and obsolescent airliners which will need replacing by 1985. Even if there were no environmental pressures about noise, the cost and shortage of fuel will force the airline market to follow technology. In addition to the aircraft, there are 10,000 JT8D and Spey engines, both of which, as my noble friend well knows, are noisy and uneconomic. The manufacturers who can drum this simple fact into their financiers and who can produce a quiet and dry replacement engine by the mid-'eighties will have one problem only, and that is the problem which Airbus Industrie has right now: how to meet the demand?

A few years ago, the Joint European Transport or JET team were quite right, I think, about their two future projects: the JET 1, with round about 130 seats; and the JET 2, with 160 seats plus. Alas!, possibly JET 2 is not quite so vital or important now, due to the coming of the Boeing 757 and also the A310. But I maintain very seriously that JET 1 must be pushed now, because time is rapidly running out. The replacement of the DC-9s, the British Aerospace 1–11s, the Caravelles, the small Tridents and the 727s give an immediate market for 2,500 airliners in the 110 to 130-seater category, which is the same category as the JET 1. There is perhaps a problem on the power plant for JET 1, as I think that the CFM 56, even with cropped fans, is probably too large. But we have the RB 432, which, if proceeded with, would fill the bill more than adequately.

The reasons of the British, the French, the Germans and the Dutch for not agreeing on a new narrow-bodied aircraft in this category, although it would have to be six abreast, is given as there being uncertainty over the market. This is a fallacy. The real reason, I maintain, alas!, is nationalism. The Dutch Fokker wants to maintain its identity and insists, if it does a deal with the United States, on taking the lead with any partner it may have. France wants to fit the new aeroplane into its existing command structure, final assembly taking place at Aerospatiale in Toulouse, which is impossible because of the ever-increasing demand for the A300 and the A310, in which, of course, West Germany also is heavily involved.

So, my Lords, I ask: Why not let us do it in the United Kingdom? The Trident and the Concorde production lines are finished; and the 1–11 production line is quietly running down with the Rumanian order, and will be finished within two years. So resolving the issue of production responsibility is the stumbling block, and not—I repeat, not—the market uncertainty. The 1985 target date for noise is only six years away, and hush kitting is purely cosmetic. So I would suggest that Europe had better get its skates on. If I may revert for a moment to the replacement engine for the Spey and the JT8D, which could of course be the power plant for JET 1, I am given to understand that the Japanese are very keen to do a deal with Rolls-Royce (Bristol) and form a consortium. So perhaps they can be encouraged to get on and do it.

Let me briefly recap on a little history. Three years ago, in the nationalisation debate, the last Government stated that there was an urgent decision for the go-ahead on JET 1. Further, they said that delay in approving this project would result in possible redundancies and possible closures of plant. The threatened factories were Weybridge, Hurn and Filton. The track record to date from these three factories—and to these three I now add Hatfield—is as follows. The British Aerospace FX11 was cancelled. The go-ahead was given for the 146, which at the moment nobody seems to want. We joined Airbus Industrie, thank goodness!, in the nick of time. Concorde has been run down, and the jigs have been removed. While on the subject of Concorde, I am given to understand that we have ceased any development on improving and upgrading existing Concordes with modifications, including Canardes, although I believe there was a model of this at the Paris Air Show. We have the Rumanian 1–11 deal; we are refurbishing VCI Os into tankers; and we are maintaining some of the United States Air Force's F1–11s.

So, my Lords, where are the new projects in which Britain's nationalised Aerospace was going to take the lead? For 30 years our Aerospace industry (to use that horrible hackneyed phrase) has been, alas!, a political football; and during this time the American aerospace industry has gone from strength to strength. Fifteen years ago the Aerospatiale had only the Caravelle—and that had a Comet nose and flight deck—and had started work on Concorde. Today France has the major share in European civil air transport. Unfortunately, in Britain the reverse has happened. Alas! we do not have very far to look for the blame. I think it lies in the Palace of Westminster. But recriminations and regrets are no good. Let us accept the present very unsatisfactory position, but let us dig ourselves out of it. I sincerely hope that when my noble friend Lord Trefgarne answers he will state that it is not the Government's intention to denationalise the industry, because I am convinced that that would be the kiss of death for it. I also hope that he will say that his slogan should be "Buy British and European!" As I say, that, I hope, is what he will say.

While on that subject, let us remember that the military side of British Aerospace does very well. We have the Jaguar and the Tornado. We can do it military-wise; why can we not do it civil-wise? I think that those who were responsible for British Airways' decision to allow the British taxpayer to buy American 757s and 737s should be removed from their positions of responsibility. What can any potential customer of British Aerospace think when our national carrier gives absolutely no encouragement to "Buy British" or, as it is today, to "Buy Anglo-European"? Can Air France, Lufthansa, SAS, Alitalia, Iberia and Olympic all be wrong? They have all bought the Airbus!

The Paris air show did little to relieve fears for the JET project. I should like to read a letter I have from somebody who works in British Aerospace. It goes as follows: As an employee of British Aerospace, I am most concerned about the state of the Commercial Aircraft Group, and would like to draw your attention to the grass-roots view that no new work is being generated and is indeed being actively discouraged. A proposal is afoot to re-engine the BAC 1–11 series airliner with a quiet engine, which will extend the useful life of the aircraft well into the 1990's. By all accounts, this proposal has been squashed at a high level within B.Ae., as being uneconomic, despite the benefits that would accrue from it, i.e. continued work for Hurn on a world-wide retrofit package and continued sales of a modified aircraft, the major development costs of which have long since been written down. Beyond 1985, 1–11's and similar aircraft will be banned from the majority of U.S. airports on the grounds of excessive noise, leading effectively to the demise of the aircraft. Is this the forward planning of B.Ae.? If so, then I think it should be aired publicly. What future is there for the H.S. 146? Whilst it works its way slowly towards first flight, where are the orders—any orders—for it? Is B.Ae. going ahead with Jet 1 and Jet 2, or modifying Concorde in any way? At the moment, of the projects mentioned above, only the 146, with a shaky start and one cancellation behind it, is progressing at all! An early statement as to B.Ae.'s future intentions is essential if experienced teams are not to be dissipated and if the Company is to remain viable in the field of Civil Aircraft".

My Lords, I think that that letter says probably everything that I have said rather better than I have said it. I will finish with the following points. In the last few years Britain's economy and growth have declined, but the effects of the decline have been camouflaged by North Sea oil which is only a short-term palliative. Our economic recovery must be based on industrial recovery and on improved productivity. Britain's natural talents, resources and population make the manufacturing sector a key element. All political parties want high productivity, which also means high wages; but our traditional industries such as shipbuilding and motor manufacturing do not, unfortunately, exhibit these characteristics. They are too labour-intensive and their products do not compete effectively at home or abroad today.

However, there is one industry that meets all these criteria. That is the aerospace industry with its wealth of talent and experience. Civil airline transportation must be a growth industry. Why else do we want to build a third London airport? A combination of British Aerospace, with its airframes, Rolls-Royce engines, avionics from Dowty, Marconi, Plessey and Lucas, must produce a product which not only would prove highly acceptable to the air-minded travelling public, but might even perhaps tempt British Airways. The will of the workers of British Aerospace is there. All that is needed is some drive and initiative from the top.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I do not have the technical knowledge to enable me to follow fully the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, in his detailed description of various aircraft and jet engines and their particular relativity to the fuel consumption and noise aspects, save to point out that I am told by what I believe to be fully reliable sources that Aerospace is very much alive to these problems and that they are confident that the know-how of their specialist staffs is more than competent to tackle these problems, and tackle them successfully. Further, I am informed that the Rolls-Royce RB 2–11 is not only suitable to power the airbus A300 but also its successor, the Mark II Airbus, the A.310. It also has yet another Rolls-Royce engine, the RB 432, which should be available in the late 1980s and which will be particularly suitable to power the medium/short-haul aircraft both in Europe and in the United States. Also it has a smaller engine, the RB 401, particularly suitable to power the smaller executive jet aircraft for which I am told there is a considerable market.

With regard to noise, Aerospace has a special aerodynamic section concerned with the construction of airframes and also with new techniques of flight control both aimed at reducing noise. In discussing Government policy for Aerospace, it might be useful to take a brief look at the record to date. Aerospace has been in existence for barely two years, during which time it has built up an organisation of some 70,000 work people—no mean item when you think of the present position of unemployment in this country. In its last annual report, it shows sales to the value of £894 million, of which £480 million were on account of exports. Finally, after paying tax, it showed a profit of £29 million—as good as if not better than, many of the other nationalised industries. During this period, as a result of considerable negotiation and hard slogging, it forged a partnership with its opposite numbers in Europe and, at the same time, enabled itself to circumvent a bid from the other side of the Atlantic which would have given Aerospace not even a junior partnership, but probably would have resulted in something like a sub-agency, probably ending up with Aerospace being taken over completely and disappearing as an inventive and progressive force.

I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, comes to reply, we shall hear that the Government intend to adopt a policy that will support Aerospace in what it is doing and in what it plans to do; and, as the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, has said, that they do not, on the contrary, intend to modify it, hive off some of it or generally to meddle with it, because if that be so, we shall not want another Unstarred Question but a very full debate.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, the Question which has been raised by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, is one which I am sure will be recognised by the Government—and particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Tregfarne, who will be replying—as one of considerable importance. It is important because we are talking about the whole problem of the future of an industry. The aircraft industry in this country has a notable past. It has done remarkable things. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, knows better than I—a mere amateur in these matters—how well the industry has performed in the past. However, it has to be realised that the industry had reached the point where it was incapable without co-ordination—I am not talking necessarily about nationalisation—and without being brought together into one unit to continue to compete effectively on a world scale.

Today we are faced with a situation which, so far from being desperate, is very hopeful. We have an industry which on the airframe side—which is covered by British Aerospace—is doing extremely well, and which has linked up with European industry through Airbus Industrie in order to do what is likely to be a very good job. This has already produced the Tornado, the multi-role combat aircraft. That is almost certainly going to be one of the striking—and I use the word in several different ways—successes with regard to the whole of military aircraft development. Do not let us forget that this is produced in Europe by a combination between different countries, and it has surpassed what is being done elsewhere in the world. It has also produced a large number of different power plants and aero engines of enormous importance.

I have been in touch with Rolls-Royce on this matter to find out from them exactly what was occurring. May I remind your Lordships that it was about nine years ago that we in this House played an important part in ensuring that the RB2–11 would continue. The RB2–11 was being planned by Rolls-Royce at the time and it proved an extremely expensive matter; in fact, it brought Rolls-Royce to bankruptcy. Rolls-Royce was saved very largely in this House. I can remember the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, accepting the view—and it was a courageous step for him to take—on behalf of the then Conservative Government that Rolls-Royce ought to be taken under national control in order to save it from collapse. This was done with support from all sides of this House at the time. Because this was done, the RB2–11 today is one of the most successful powerplants in the world. I am told that the Australian airline, Qantas, have just decided to use the RB2–11 instead of what I believe is called the JT8D—perhaps the noble Lord will be able to correct me on this matter—because the RB2–11 has nearly 8 per cent. greater fuel efficiency than the American powerplant.

Do not let us run down all the time what we do in this country. Some of the things that we do are extremely good. I am told that Eastern Airlines—I think one of the biggest airlines in the world—has decided to install the RB35—another Rolls-Royce engine—in their new Boeing 757 aircraft because it is more efficient than the powerplants they can get in America. They claim—and whether this figure is correct I cannot be certain; I am told this by Rolls-Royce—the increase in efficiency will be 40 per cent. These are not trifling figures. One has to bear in mind that it is largely statistical nonsense to talk about the efficiency of a powerplant unless one also talks about the combination of the airframe, because it is the combination of the airframe with the powerplant that gives efficiency. It is not just a matter of whether there is a good engine but whether there is an aerodynamically effective airframe so that the combination of powerplant and airframe gives this high efficiency.

There is no reason to suppose that our producers of powerplants and airframes are falling behind. I am informed that if Rolls-Royce are prepared to go ahead with the development of their RB401—unfortunately one has to use these numbers and letters—this would power the executive 125 aircraft. They have already produced this engine but do not have it in full production. This could be extremely important not only for this country but particularly in America because the Americans like the 125. Rolls-Royce, after all, are not an organisation that can be expected just to turn out engines in the hope that there will be some uses for them. They have to be certain in advance that the engines can be used. It is like making a motorcar, you cannot make a new design of motorcar and expect that its success will depend upon an accident of whether this man or that buys it. One has to try and find an assured market before producing the car. Rolls-Royce, quite rightly, will gladly make the RB401 but they want to have the evidence of the market in advance.

The same applies to the RB432, to which reference has been made. The RB432 is, I understand, an ideal engine for planes of the order of 150 seats. The noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, said that there will be a large market for this, but no one can tell with certainty exactly when that market will be available. No one can tell with certainty who will buy the aeroplane. One cannot blame Rolls-Royce for saying, "Until you can tell us how many engines will be ordered, we cannot undertake the cost of developing the engine". This applies all the way through.

There are other matters which arise on which I do not want to go into detail. There is one to which I should like to refer. In the further future we are all thinking in terms of what will happen when oil is no longer available or not available cheaply enough. In fact, it is already going up rapidly. Here again you come into difficulties. For instance, I looked at the evening papers in the Library. I found one that said the price was going up by 7p per gallon; the other evening paper said 8p. But then the first one "upped" this and said it was going up by 10p. The second one "upped" it again and now says it is going up by 12p. It is really anyone's guess, and these figures are, frankly, vague guesses. We know that it is going up; and when it has gone up enough we shall look to other fuels.

Of course, one that is constantly referred to is hydrogen, which is in many ways a fuel of great potentiality and one which people say causes no pollution. In a sense, it does not, because when hydrogen is burned it only produces water. But although we know we can burn hydrogen in an aero engine, nobody is prepared to say at the moment—and I have been in touch with the firms to find out—whether they have any engine running today which they would guarantee to run on hydrogen. That is the first point.

The second point is that there is an immense logistic problem involved in using hydrogen because certainly you have to liquefy it and, except for helium, it is the most difficult gas to liquefy. So you have to reduce the temperature to an enormous extent in order to liquefy hydrogen and you would need to have liquefying plants on every aerodrome in the world in order to run on hydrogen. Therefore, you have a vast logistics problem and no one today is prepared to say definitely whether they can face up to that problem in a short time. These are problems with which I know the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is very familiar; but I should like to suggest to him that perhaps in replying he might take a little time to let us know what his thinking is on this kind of matter.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him this: he said that Rolls-Royce were uncertain that there was a market for the 435. By 1985 the present Speys and JT.8Ds will not be allowed to land at any airport; but there are over 10,000 of these in existence today. Therefore, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he would not agree with me that there is a market for a new, quiet, dry engine of this thrust and power.


My Lords, I am sure there must be a market and I am sure that Rolls-Royce would like to hear from the noble Earl with a guarantee of this market. I think they would then go ahead and produce it.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, it is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and, judging by the present developing oil crisis, we certainly have the incentive to further invention. If I may borrow a line from "The Six Million Dollar man", we have the technology. The question is: Which way should we deploy it?

A great deal of stress has been very properly laid on the development of more efficient jet engines, and these must come. I have heard various opinions on the extra savings on hydrocarbon fuel which can be made, but most opinion seems to hold that well within the reach of present technology is an economy of around 16 per cent. within the next few years. That is very valuable, but I should like to ask for a balanced approach in aircraft research. This has already been mentioned. I support the idea that the airframes are even more important. Expert opinion has it that the economies in hydrocarbons to be expected from reduction in weight by the use of new materials, by improvements in aerodynamics and control systems and by operational control improvements are roughly twice those to be had from engine improvements in the next five to 10 years. One can never be sure until it has been done, but I would plead that our efforts, with inevitably limited resources, should not be entirely concentrated on engines, but that British Aerospace be given as much encouragement as the Americans have given to their NASA for the aerodynamic economies which are possible.

It has been pointed out that hydrogen is a possible alternative, and certainly the greatest economy that could be made in hydrocarbons is to use none. There are several synthetics that are possible and these will certainly come from the realms of fantasy into actuality within the next few years—they must, because even the most optimistic curves of oil production show a rapid tailing-off in the very early years of the next century and the more pessimistic curves show a tailing off in the next few years. What is certain is that the next generation of aircraft will still he in service when jet fuel from conventional oil sources has become a great rarity and utterly uneconomical. So consideration of synthetic fuel and other power sources is an absolute necessity.

There are several possibilities. The Government should certainly be keeping an eye on biological sources, on methanol, ethanol and other non-hydrocarbons. But of the possibilities, hydrogen must be the most likely. The Coal Board are doing a great deal of work on synthetic hydrocarbons from coal. I should like to point out that Lockheed have recently proposed that they should take the risk on hydrogen propelled aircraft. Although passenger aircraft have not yet been operated with hyrdogen fuel, NASA has certainly operated a great many engines using hydrogen fuel. So a lot of the technology is known and no great problems are envisaged in changing over from conventional gas turbines to hydrogen.

Provisional figures I have seen, based on the production of hydrogen from coal, seem to show at least the possibility of much greater cost-efficiency in using that coal to produce hydrogen than synthetic hydrocarbons. I know this is disputed in some places, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating and we shall only know when it is actually tried out.

Another argument for taking the hydrogen option seriously is that any energy source, whether it be nuclear, wind power or any other source of energy, can be used to produce hydrogen because it is produced from water, and Heaven knows there is plenty of that! So even countries without coal can look forward to providing fuel for engines which are powered by hydrogen. This option must be taken seriously, and apart from escaping from the fuel shortage problem, there are other possible advantages. It is calculated that because of the weight saving of hydrogen fuel that the noise levels of such aircraft would be lower. I have seen calculations indicating, for instance, that the TriStar, if it were propelled by hydrogen engines instead of kerosene engines, would be six decibels quieter. That is a great saving in nuisance for the same load-carrying capacity, and it is something we should take seriously.

The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, has mentioned that the great unknown with hydrogen concerns the logistics of producing it in bulk, in transferring it and storing it. Nobody will know about that until we try it out. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, I think, is aware that Lockheed themselves have proposed to run a test airline in the United States, Britain and Germany. I think we should take this proposal very seriously. I think there is a very strong chance that this technology will come to pass within the next generation, and that those who are in there in the next few years will reap the benefit. We must, I suggest, be well aware of what is going on and be prepared to co-operate in these experiments, and the British Government really must have representation at the conference which is proposed in Stuttgart in September, to be well informed of what is going on and to help us decide what part, if any, we should play.

The discussion has been about the big jets. The vast majority of aircraft have not been mentioned. Over 90 per cent. of United Kingdom registered aircraft are general aviation aircraft and, if we arc talking of economy of operation, strangely enough, and to the surprise of most people, they are the most economic. The Boeing 747 is, very rightly, proud of its 40 passenger seats per mile gallon consumption, which is indeed very good for a big jet. But I worked out last night that the performance of my own pride and joy, a 100 hp Rallye Club, is 70 seat miles per gallon of hydrocarbon, which leaves even a 747 standing. I therefore appeal to the Government: do not forget this most important sector.

Many of the Press and the public seem to have the opinion that people in piston-propelled aircraft are just playboys in the sky. This is nonsense. The overwhelming majority of general aviation aircraft are used on business. Heaven knows, we use very little fuel, but of that which is used about two-thirds is in business, about 10 per cent. is in agriculture, about a quarter is in training of new pilots and less than 3 per cent. is in recreation. So that it is a most important sector, although a very small and undemanding one.

We have certain problems at the moment in respect of fuel supplies, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will bear in mind our need. The position is very puzzling. I myself have recently been into airports where no fuel at all was available for visitors. That is a very dangerous position, because it tempts private fliers to try to get home with a teaspoonful in the tank, and the biggest single cause of forced landing through lack of power is simply running out of petrol. I ask that pilots be warned of these dangers. What are we to do about restoring supplies? Certainly it appears that supplies have been more restricted for general aviation than for the motorist, and this is certainly dangerous and uneconomic. The stories that we are getting as to why these shortages are happening are confusing, but it appears very likely that the revolution in Iran, quite apart from restricting supplies, has had a particular effect on the supplies of Avgas, by cutting down almost to nothing the production of an Avgas refinery at Abadan. It is bad enough in Europe looking for supplies of Avgas, but outside Europe—in the East and in Australasia—there has been a very bad position indeed in recent months, with even medical aircraft grounded for lack of fuel. If we arc to avoid this position in Europe, then I think that the Government should give this matter urgent attention. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, to take this matter very seriously and I appeal to him to call a conference in the near future to include the Government, the oil companies and GAMTA—the representative of general aviation—to discuss the present difficulties and future supplies for this most important sector of our aviation community.

6.44 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, has whetted our appetites on many occasions over recent months in connection with the aerospace industry, and I join with previous speakers in thanking the noble Earl for providing us again with an opportunity to "air" the subject, if I may use that term. When I first read the Question, I recalled our debate on 27th March, initiated again by the noble Earl. To he fair, that debate concentrated on the smaller size range of aircraft and the market for aircraft from around 120 seats up to perhaps 180.

Much of the general argument for support of such aircraft types was gone over before. Apart from commenting on one or two specific points, I do not intend to rehearse the detailed considerations again. I should like to look more generally at the industry, and the relations between British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce and the Government, with particular emphasis on civil aircraft projects. I have not forgotten the questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Whaddon, and the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, and I shall come to those at the end. But these civil projects are at the core of the noble Earl's Question. First, I should like to comment briefly on what has already been achieved with regard to some related matters and what is in progress.

During the previous debate, references were made to the likely size of the market for 120–180 seater aircraft. The noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, has previously quoted figures—and he mentioned them again tonight—of up to 3,000 aeroplanes. This sounds to me rather on the high side. I am not certain whether we are talking of one aircraft type, or a number with different seating capacities within the same range. But what I think was established, when we considered the issues in March, was that there is certainly a market slot below the Airbus and the Boeing 757–767 category; but the size of the market—as the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, reminded us—and the precise requirements of the airlines as to seating capacity, performance, et cetera, have yet to be determined.

In considering any new aircraft in this sector, it is crucial that the manufacturers produce what the airline operators want. With competition from American manufacturers, in the form of DC9–80s, reengined DC-8s and new variants from the giant Boeing Company, our manufacturers may not get a second chance to get their designs and timing right and still capture a reasonable share of the market. I mentioned all of this in some detail, and other related points, when we discussed the issues last March.

But as regards the design I think the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, and I will be agreed on one aspect; that is, that any new project in the medium range category of around 150 seats will require high standards of technology to be built into its basic design. The strong competition from other aircraft means that the economics of operating any such aircraft must be extremely good; in fact, superlative. And the effects of the new noise regulations and the unrelenting increases in fuel prices place additional constraints and set even higher targets for any new project. These are factors which must be taken into account in the basic design.

Of course, many of these considerations affect design of the engines as much as the airframe itself. It is in this aero engine increasing, the number of aircraft weighing field that significant advances have been achieved with new types of engines, such as the RB.21 and its variants and the smaller Franco-American CFM.56 engine and refanned JT.8 engines. These engines are relatively new and show significant gains in the areas of noise and efficiency. The engines will no doubt be improved in many respects to match, or stay ahead of, the continuing lowering of noise standards and the ever increasing need to economise on fuel. As your Lordships will know, Rolls-Royce have embarked on a significant programme to improve their RB.211–524 engine, with new, more powerful, and more efficient variants.

The investment required in such new programmes is large, and involves substantial funds from the public sector. There will therefore be Government involvement in the decisions to embark on such ventures, so that the wider implications for the industry—and the country as a whole—can be taken fully into account. But we should note that the demands put upon the manufacturers by the market are not always wholly compatible with each other. No doubt, those living close to airports and under the main flight paths would require the quietest jets the plane-makers can produce. But the quietest jets are not always the most economic, nor the most fuel effective. Significant improvements in noise suppression on existing engines have been demonstrated with hush kits and other noise-reducing devices, such as ejector silencers. No doubt we can expect further improvements as the science advances.

It is important to remember that the improvements which have been achieved to date have not been gained without considerable expenditure upon research and development. Further improvements will be even more expensive to achieve; a return in terms of the degree of suppression of emissions relative to the investment required may not be as great as previously. In other words, we have done the easy things. Future progress will prove harder and harder.

As I said, the technology has been developed which has markedly reduced subsonic aircraft noise. This has been reflected in the current noise regulations. However, although the proportion is increasing, the number of aircraft weighing more than 30 tonnes in airline service which were designed to meet Annex 16, Chapter 2, of the ICAO standard comprises only about 15 per cent. of the world fleet. Moreover, while some aircraft of recent design will be able to comply with the more stringent Chapter 3 standards, no aircraft specifically designed to that standard has yet flown. Hence, introduction of aircraft incorporating the latest available technology will make some improvements over many years to the noise currently experienced around airports. But there will be no dramatic overnight improvement, even on that fateful day in 1986 when the last of the United Kingdom fleet of "noisy" aircraft retires. Even this modest if steady improvement will be to some extent slowed by the increase in air transport operations generally.

While the technology is already available, or nearly so, there is no aero engine incorporating it which is currently in service. One Franco-American CFM 56 engine of some 10 tonnes thrust is now becoming available in production, but there are few existing airframes capable of being effectively developed to accept it.

There is, perhaps, a potential demand for 400 to 500 aircraft in the medium capacity, medium range sector of the market, and of course a larger demand elsewhere in the world. While we should recognise that there are many existing airframes of rather smaller size, such as our excellent BAC 1–11, capable of development for some of the market, there is no really suitable engine yet in production which incorporates all the currently available technology. However, the potential world market seems large. Indeed, the United States plane-makers are exploiting it by modifications to existing engines. But the results are only a marginal improvement. Both noise and fuel consumption characteristics fall short of what we hope can eventually be achieved.

The desirable incorporation of available technology consequently seems to require the development of either a substantially new airframe or a new engine; and indeed a case for developing both can be made out. But very large capital investments will be required in either case, and these will be large in relation to the industrial capacity already committed to current projects. These factors will have to be examined very closely and related to market prospects.

For the airframe, British Aerospace has been examining the issues in collaboration with other European manufacturers for some time, although at present no favoured single design proposal has emerged. As to the engines, Rolls-Royce has its RB432 design but no decision on launching it has been made. With all the uncertainties in this sector, this is quite understandable.

The position on gaseous emissions from aero engines is rather different. With the exception of two or three exceptionally busy United States airports, aero engines have little effect on air quality at airports. Indeed, motor cars and air-conditioning plants at the airport can have a more adverse effect. Nevertheless, the Government will continue to monitor this aspect of aero engine pollution.

Returning to our consideration of new aircraft, we should recall that below the medium-size airliners there are of course the corporate, commuter and feeder type aircraft. In this sector, our main airframe manufacturer is already heavily committed with new and existing projects.

It was only last July that the previous Government approved British Aerospace's decision to launch the four-jet 146 feeder-liner. I understand that work on this project is now under way in this country and abroad. The involvement of American and Swedish manufacturers on this new "British" project on a risk-sharing basis is perhaps a sign of the times. This spreading of the development burdens among other countries has relieved British Aerospace, and hence the Government, of some of the financial commitment to this £250 million programme.

At the lower end of the civil transport market, British Aerospace has the new Jetstream 31, launched only last December. This commuter or executive aircraft is entering a competitive and rapidly expanding sector of the market. It will of course be necessary to match the price and availability of other aircraft at this end of the market, but providing this can be done, all those involved in British Aerospace should find it a rewarding venture It will be of major benefit to the Scottish Division of British Aerospace.

In the light of these two programmes, the 146 and the Jetstream 31, British Aerospace has a full workload at this end of the market. Above the 150 seater range which I mentioned previously, British Aerospace are already engaged on the existing A300 Airbus and the new smaller A310 Airbus, and again the opening for a wholly new civil transport project in this area seems unavailable.

However, as your Lordships are aware, British Aerospace, with its partners in Airbus Industrie, is looking at the whole spectrum of aircraft, including longer range, heavier weight, larger capacity and cargo types. Much of the work being done has concentrated on the single aisle type of aircraft of up to 180 seats mentioned by myself and the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, during our previous debate. But the other aircraft are also being taken into account in these studies. We should not expect an early conclusion to be reached.

It must be remembered, of course, that as a partner in Airbus Industrie, British Aerospace has agreed not to enter into programmes competing with those of Airbus Industrie. This is not a one-sided commitment, of course, and your Lordships will wish to know that the other partners, Deutsche Airbus and Aerospatiale, have made exactly the same commitment.

Although many of my previous remarks have been related to the evolution of new types of aircraft, and the constraints which must be considered, many of the same principles apply to the re-engining of existing aircraft types. It is not a cheap or easy task to swop engines from one aircraft to another. It is a major commitment of design, production and financial resources; one must be sure to get it right.

Before turning to the Government's role in these affairs, I want to say a few words about a further set of constraints which all too frequently get overlooked in the enthusiasm for new projects. I am not sure that we have emphasised them enough this evening. I am thinking now of the resources in terms of finance, manpower and materials available to our industries.

British Aerospace, in particular, is already heavily committed on existing programmes, both in the civil and military fields. Airbus Industrie, which I mentioned earlier, is receiving an increasing flow of orders and has found interested airlines in all four corners of the globe. It has even made some inroads into the American market. Indeed, it is difficult to keep pace with the orders for airbus these days, and it is very satisfying to note that this aircraft is flying on British wings. In consequence, the partners are considering what can be done to increase production rates. On the military side, too, we should note that British Aerospace is very heavily engaged on a wide range of programmes.

British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce are therefore already committed to additional investment and to improvements in efficiency in the largest total production programme ever undertaken in British aviation history. Design and production capacity in British Aerospace, anyway, will be at full stretch until 1981 at least. In consequence, the target set by British Aerospace is for an improvement in efficiency and productivity in order to take full advantage of the situation and improve its share of world markets.

These commitments on existing programmes mean that any new projects, whether new aircraft ventures or major revisions of existing aircraft, must be fully justified and timed to fit existing programme commitments. These are but some of the constraints. However much we in your Lordships' House would wish to see the continuing success of one of our most famous industries, we must face reality. We must recognise that the most detailed consideration of the market, the most careful balance of the commercial and technical issues and the efficient use of the available resources is necessary before any new aerospace project can be launched.

It is for British Aerospace, not for the Government, to take the initiative in considering possible new projects and in bringing forward proposals, if it so wishes. Only at that stage do the Government become involved, since a major new aircraft project will involve the commitment of substantial resources and needs to be carefully scrutinised.

The Government have no intention of usurping the responsibility of British Aerospace management and making decisions on possible new projects at an earlier stage. On the contrary, our Manifesto said that we would interfere less with the management of nationalised industries, and we are determined to fulfil this promise. But our Manifesto also said that we would offer to sell the industry back to private ownership, giving employees the opportunity to purchase shares. There are many possible ways of implementing this commitment: we are examining carefully all the options and we shall bring forward proposals as soon as the facts about the industry have been fully assessed.

I will now turn to some of the points which have been put to me this evening and will try to help noble Lords on them. My noble friend Lord Kimberley asked me a number of questions. First, about what we are doing to develop Concorde further. Production support on Concorde is continuing on a limited scale, but any other developments have not yet been agreed or even considered. As with JET, we are waiting for some proposals.

With regard to the Rolls-Royce engine programme, my noble friend particularly mentioned the RB 4–32 and the RB 4–01. I can say that no proposals have yet been made by Rolls-Royce to the National Enterprise Board—as it would be in the first instance—on these projects, but no doubt they will be carefully considered in due course.


My Lords, while my noble friend is referring to the RB 4–32 may I ask whether he has any news about Japan forming a consortium with Rolls-Royce regarding production of this in Bristol?


My Lords, I have read the Press reports on those proposals, as the noble Earl has done. I have no formal information on that to hand, but I will look into the matter further and will write to the noble Earl.

The noble Earl, Lord Amherst, paid a tribute to British Aerospace and to their technical expertise. I certainly support and agree with him on that. The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, raised a number of points. I will come to the question of the hydrogen-powered aircraft in a moment because the noble Lord, Lord Whaddon, also mentioned that. Perhaps I might just explain that it is a fact that Qantas have ordered RB 2–11 engines to be fitted to their new 747 aircraft. In fact, the RB 2–11 is a replacement for the JT 9 engine which is one of the other possible options on the 747. As for Eastern airlines who have indeed ordered the Boeing 757 to be fitted with the RB 2–11–535 engine, the noble Lord mentioned that the RB 2–11 was 40 per cent. better than the other engine that was an option on that aircraft. It sounds to me to be a very optimistic figure, but I certainly agree that the RB 2–11 is better in many respects. The noble Lord is quite right in saying that the RB 4–01 is a much smaller engine designed for corporate aircraft and, as the noble Lord also said—and this is a point which I think could be echoed in other contexts—it is of course necessary for Rolls-Royce to be sure that they have customers for their engines before launching major production programmes.

On the question of hydrogen engines, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones and the noble Lord, Lord Whaddon, these are very early days indeed for hydrogen engines. The major problem, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, is carrying the hydrogen in the aircraft. The problems of liquefication and compression have not yet been solved to a stage where we can think of prototype engines or prototype aircraft, but we shall certainly keep a wary eye on developments in that field and hope that progress will be made.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. The point I was pressing was not so much the carrying of the hydrogen in the aircraft as the storage on the ground at the airport, where considerable facilities would have to be made available.


That is certainly true, my Lords, but I think carriage in the aircraft is also a problem which has not yet fully been solved. I certainly agree that the problem to which the noble Lord refers is another which has not yet been solved.

Finally, I should like to refer to the rather important question of the fuel for light aircraft which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Whaddon. I am informed by the oil companies that there is a shortage of aviation gasolene and that supplies to some customers are being reduced to 95 per cent. of the normal level and that this may create localised shortages. I would advise the noble Lord when making a flight to check at his airport of destination that supplies of gasolene are available there if refuelling is likely to be necessary.

The noble Lord mentioned that some owners are using motor spirit in their aircraft. This is a most dangerous practice which is certainly not authorised and invalidates the certification of the engines concerned. I hope the noble Lord will discourage his aviatorial friends from doing that, because it really is against the law and dangerous. If the noble Lord would like further information on that particular point, I would refer him to the Civil Aviation Authority's airworthiness Notice No. 70 of 25th September 1972, which gives full details and makes it very clear that that is not an appropriate practice to follow. My noble friend Lord Kimberley has once more posed searching and important questions. While we cannot yet be specific on all facets of our policy, I can promise that we shall proceed to conclusions as fast as prudence allows and in doing so we shall consider very carefully the views of your Lordships as expressed tonight.


My Lords, I apologise profoundly for the fact that, owing to circumstances over which I have no control, I only heard the latter part of the noble Lord's speech. I should not like this debate to finish without my paying a tribute to the firm of Rolls-Royce, who were my constituents for many years before I left another place in 1970. I always had then, as everybody in Derby had, the very highest regard for the management of the firm and for the work which they accomplished. At that time, when I left Derby, the RB 2–11 was coming up and was about to secure the enormous contract—

Several noble Lords: Order!


My Lords, I do hope the noble Lord will forgive me. It is against the practice of the House for a noble Lord to speak after the Government's reply to an Unstarred Question.


My Lords, I apologise profusely. May I ask the noble Lord a question? Can he amplify the few words that I heard him say about the prospects for the greatest aeroplane in the world, the Concorde, on routes other than those on which it is now used?


My Lords, perhaps it would be convenient if I were to write to the noble Lord on that point. I could give him some information if I were to take that course.