HL Deb 06 April 1982 vol 429 cc117-8

2.57 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 what proposals they have for improving the safety of passenger aircraft.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the statutory responsibility for air safety lies with the Civil Aviation Authority. The authority keeps under review the requirements governing the design and construction of passenger aircraft and the standards to which they are operated. This is a continuing process involving discussion with a wide cross-section of the aviation industry, including research organisations and other airworthiness authorities.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the report on cabin safety in large transport aircraft recently issued by the United States National Transportation and Safety Board? Is he aware that in that survey of survivable crashes of passenger aircraft there was a most lamentable failure of cabin fittings, some 60 per cent. of these crashes showing serious failures—50 per cent. showing seat or seat belt failures, some 45 per cent. showing overhead racks coming down and some 35 per cent. showing galley equipment crashing all over the place? Is he aware that some 40 per cent. of the passengers involved became casualties? Will the Government consult with the United States authorities on the necessity to tighten up these regulations and reduce the hazards?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly agree that the report to which the noble Lord refers provided some interesting food for thought in these matters, but it is perhaps worth saying that the problems are not as simple as some of the commentaries on that report made out. I particularly noticed the article in the Observer on the 14th March, I think it was, which perhaps drew the attention of the noble Lord to the report in the first place. For example, if you strengthen an aircraft seat in the way that some people would have us do, then you almost certainly ensure that the accident is not survivable so far as the passenger is concerned because it is his spine which takes the shock rather than the collapsing seat.

Earl Grey

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that decisions that some of these measures be incorporated in regard to safety were taken 30 years ago, and is it not about time that these measures were up-dated?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Earl is wholly mistaken in that view, if I may say so. For the record, the Civil Aviation Authority has introduced 23 amendments to its airworthiness requirements in the past 12 months, which have been aimed at improving the safety of civil transport aircraft. It has planned a further 47 amendments, which it hopes to introduce during the next few years. It has also issued nine airworthiness notices during the last 12 months dealing with the raising of safety standards.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the use of flight simulators has contributed significantly to our flight safety over recent years? Does he not agree that the United Kingdom has been pre-eminent in the development of flight simulation? Can he say whether the Government will continue to give every encouragement to the further development of flight simulators, not only for flight safety but in development flying?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend in that matter, and I can certainly give him the assurance for which he asks. There is none better than he, if I may say so, to comment on these things.