HL Deb 14 January 1998 vol 584 cc1047-8

Lord Gainford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will implement the proposal made by the Civil Aviation Authority in 1989 that the gap width in aircraft bulkheads leading to floor level exits be increased from the present minimum of twenty inches to thirty inches minimum.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, following the accident at Manchester Airport in 1985, the Civil Aviation Authority commissioned a study into the effect of cabin configuration on aircraft evacuation. This study concluded, among other things, that the minimum width for passageways between floor to ceiling rigid structures, such as galleys, should be 30 inches.

The Joint Aviation Authorities developed proposals based on this study and published an advance notice of proposed amendment in October 1996, inviting comments on the economic impact of a proposal to increase the minimum bulkhead width to 30 inches. These comments are now being assessed and we expect a decision from the JAA later this year.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that most encouraging Answer. As regards the Written Question which the noble Baroness answered last year, which was reported in Hansard, about Article 36 of the Treaty of Rome and the necessity for safety in transport, should there be any difficulty following these recommendations is it not possible for the British aviation industry to act unilaterally to make British airliners the safest in the world, as I hope they always are?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, as regards unilateral action, I understand the frustration experienced while the JAA has been making progress on this particular recommendation. However, the advantages of having European-wide standards are so great that it is important that we take this issue forward, if at all possible, at a European level. As I said in my original Answer, some progress is being made. The broader issue of aviation safety is one of the factors on which we hope to take action during the UK presidency. We hope to strengthen the structure at European level for dealing with safety issues.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the European dimension. Is there anything that Ministers can do in the European Civil Aviation Conference—which, unlike the JAA, is a government-level conference—to promote the endeavours of the Civil Aviation Authority in the JAA'? Some people regard this as very important.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, some issues are being dealt with in the approach that is being developed in adopting joint aviation requirements through the JAA process. The activities during the UK presidency to which I alluded include looking at the suggestion that the JAA should be replaced by a stronger treaty-based European aviation safety agency, which in due course would cover all aspects of aviation safety, including ATS and aerodromes. I hope that we can make some progress on that.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, first, can the Minister say what reaction, if any, there has been from the Federal Aviation Administration to this proposal? Obviously, with America at the forefront of civil aviation, it is very important that we should be aware of their views on this. Secondly, I was pleased to hear what the noble Baroness said about aviation safety. Can she confirm that, although aviation is very safe, it is far more dangerous than eating beef on the bone? Therefore, can we be assured that the Government have no plans to ban civil aviation?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I believe that there will be opportunities for pursuing that particular line of argument later in the day in your Lordships' House. As regards the FAA, the noble Lord is right to point out that aviation is not only a European but an international issue. The FAA of the United States has no current proposals to increase the width of its aircraft's passageways. However, the JAA will ask the FAA to consider the adoption of its proposals as part of the general harmonisation process on this issue.

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