HL Deb 05 July 1993 vol 547 cc1066-8

3 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull asked Her Majesty's Government:

Following two fatal air accidents in Taiwan and Amsterdam, and Boeing's recent admission of a design fault in the engine pylons and pins of its 747 aircraft, what safety assurance passengers have before refitting takes place in several years' time.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, mandatory detailed visual and ultrasonic structural inspections have been required. They are designed to find any corrosion and cracks that could reduce the strength of the engine attachment and are to be repeated at specified frequent intervals pending modification of the assembly. The United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority is satisfied that proper safety standards are thereby being maintained until modified mountings are fitted.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that assurance. But can he say what information he has that the same rigorous safety procedures will be adopted by all foreign airline operators both for the safety of passengers and for those who live and work under the flightpaths? Does he agree that it is hardly satisfactory for Boeing, having accepted a design fault, to announce that modification will take at least five years? Surely such a fault could be corrected sooner, could it not?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, with regard to the first point, there are three instructions that the FAA of America have issued. Because the engine in question is on a Boeing plane and the engines are either Pratt Whitney or Rolls Royce, the order that was put out becomes a mandatory order and therefore applies throughout the world. It would be up to each safety regulation authority of the country concerned to make sure that the order is implemented. With regard to the second point, I can reassure my noble friend that because of the checks that are being carried out within a specified time those planes that pass the checks are safe to fly. If a plane does not pass the check it is immediately grounded until the fault is corrected.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that I recognise his response to the Question as coming from the Civil Aviation Authority's briefing material on this matter? It was noticeable that he omitted to mention that part of the brief refers to the very expensive nature of the diagnostic tests falling on the operator. Will he make representations to make sure that Boeing, which after ail is said and done is the originator of the fault, bears the total cost of both the inspection and correction and that no cost falls on the travelling public?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord will notice some similarities between what I said and what the CAA has said. It is the safety adviser to the Government and it would be very stupid of the Government not to take account of their safety advisers. With regard to the second point, I take note of what the noble Lord has said.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that so far as concerns British civil aircraft, the advice of the Civil Aviation Authority has been fully accepted and is being applied? Can he also indicate, in the case of foreign civil aircraft, whether there is any comparable precaution?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I can certainly confirm to my noble friend that the United Kingdom airlines are very aware of the instructions of the FAA with regard to the 747s, and work is being undertaken by those airlines that use the 747s. Boeing has a list of all those countries and airlines that use 747s. There are some 1,000 of them and they will be checking up in their own way. But the safety authorities of the country concerned are also carrying out the checks with the civil aviation authority arm.

Lord Foley

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that as the engine mountings of the Boeing 747 at this moment are slightly suspect, it would be a good idea if the very strict noise abatement procedures at British an-ports, particularly London airports, which cause certain dangers in flying procedures could be suspended for that type of aircraft until it has been given a completely clean bill of health?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, so far as I am aware, the 747s—unless the tests that are being undertaken find that the fuse pins and the lugs are inadequate—are perfectly safe to fly. I can recommend that to my noble friend. With regard to noise, every aircraft is noisy, but my noble friend will be pleased to know that the noisier Chapter 2 aircraft will be phased out so that the quieter Chapter 3 aircraft will give everybody who lives near the flightpath a better way of life.

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