HL Deb 28 October 1981 vol 424 cc1071-2

2.56 p.m.

Lord Whaddon

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 how many small air taxi firms based in the United Kingdom have ceased operation in recent months, and to what extent this is due to problems with the price and availability of AVGAS.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the Civil Aviation Authority tell me that during the six months April to September of this year, 15 small air taxi operators surrendered their air operators' certificates because they had ceased operations. During the same period the CAA issued 23 new certificates to operators of this type. Both these figures exclude short-term certificates issued to operators who work seasonally. It is not possible to assess the extent to which the price and availability of AVGAS has influenced these figures.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. Does he not agree however that there is at present a bizarre position in the duty on aviation fuel where the fuel efficient piston engine aircraft using AVGAS are charged 62.8p a gallon and the thirsty jets 3p a gallon? Is this not a monstrous burden on the more efficient aircraft? Will the noble Lord take urgent action to respond to the requests of the general aviation interests that a unified fuel tax be brought in? Is he aware that 98 per cent. of AVGAS is used in business and training and only 2 per cent. in sporting flying? Is he aware that the view from official quarters that reduction of duty on AVGAS might result in use by motorists is nonsense, since if the whole of the duty were removed the price of that fuel would still be higher than that of motor fuel.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, in my former position in the Department of Trade I became very well aware of the views of the air taxi industry in this matter. As the noble Lord will appreciate, my right honourable friend the Chancellor always keeps his cards fairly close to his chest in these matters, but he has said that he would ensure that the case for a change in the duty on AVGAS was properly examined.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, without going against the desirability of reducing the duty on AVGAS, may I ask whether my noble friend can say whether he has anything further to report on the use of MOGAS?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the use of MOGAS continues to be studied carefully. However there are, I understand, a number of safety problems. One of the other aspects causing difficulty is the understandable reluctance of the engine manufacturers to allow their engines to be re-rated for a type of fuel where the quality control might be less stringent than for AVGAS.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that some of us will be pleased that he has refused to support this idea, this retrograde idea, this potentially dangerous idea, that MOGAS should be used instead of AVGAS? Will the noble Lord, with his previous knowledge in the other department, with his past experience, make the effort to get hold of those cards which his right honourable friend is holding too close to his chest? Will the noble Lord look at them and tell his right honourable friend that there is reason for the Government to do something to help not only the air taxi people but general aviation?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, there is a good deal in what the noble Lord says about this, but as for my getting hold of the cards close to the chest of my right honourable friend, I doubt whether I should have much more success than the noble Lord did with his Chancellor in his day.

Lord Strathcarron

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the price of aviation petrol in most countries in Western Europe is approximately £1.75 a gallon compared with over £2.50 in this country, and does he agree that this is a scandalous situation?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I agree that different Governments approach their fiscal problems in different ways, which is doubtless one of the matters which affects the price of AVGAS in this country.