HL Deb 03 June 1998 vol 590 cc336-7

2.45 p.m.

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to ensure that planes landing at Heathrow comply with the Civil Aviation Authority's minimum fuel requirements.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the CAA recently reissued its aeronautical information circular giving advice on fuel levels to aircraft which are inbound to UK airports. Such advice is updated regularly as a matter of routine. There is no evidence to suggest that there is a problem with planes arriving at Heathrow Airport with inadequate fuel levels.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware that over the past six months five aircraft about to land at Heathrow sent out mayday or distress calls, saying that they had run out of fuel and asking to have priority landing? That is a major safety issue. What action can the Government or the CAA take about aircraft which continue to flout the basic rule of having enough fuel to go on to another airport?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the low-fuel incidents at Heathrow Airport to which my noble friend referred include a combination of pilot-notified concern as well as mayday calls. They are investigated as they occur. With regard to concern about aircraft which offend persistently, the statistics show that incidents of aircraft arriving at their destinations with fuel levels approaching the minimum reserve are rare. There are no persistent offenders. If it appeared that aircraft operated by a UK airline were arriving with insufficient fuel, the CAA would require the airline to improve its fuel management policy. In the case of foreign operators, we would expect their national aviation authorities to take similar action.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that too many aircraft are landing at Heathrow in any event, and that a percentage of them should be required to land elsewhere?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, my noble friend taxes my natural commitment to Manchester International Airport as being my regional airport. We of course take seriously the question of safety. I must stress that any incident causing concern or indicating potential concern is rare. There were just three events out of some 220,000 landings at Heathrow last year.

Baroness Gardner of Parks

My Lords, how many of the incidents to which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred have been instances where the aircraft have been held in a waiting pattern at Heathrow? Is it a common problem that aircraft arriving are asked to fly around until there is an opportunity to land?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the standards require that the amount of fuel carried allows not just for stand-by and circling, but enables such aircraft to go to an alternative airport should that prove necessary. Of the five incidents referred to, two—one in March 1996 and one in December 1997—were following long hold. In the case of the incident on 15th December 1997, priority approach was given, the aircraft landed, but the fuel reserve was still above the minimum level required.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, may I say—

Noble Lords


Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, I am getting into bad habits, I am sorry. Those figures for mayday and other emergency calls are small, but one serious crash through lack of fuel could be a major disaster. Would my noble friend kindly look into the advice given in the circulars to see whether it is sufficiently strong? Further, does she feel that there should be tough monitoring, bearing in mind that we have had reports of serious problems when it comes to landing aircraft safely at Heathrow?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, my noble friend is right. This is a serious matter. Because of that, it is a matter of routine that the CAA reviews all aeronautical information circulars every five years. We take the issue seriously. I refer my noble friend to the figures: in Heathrow there were just three incidents out of some 220,000 landings.

As I said in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, the incidents where concern was expressed by the pilot in the event did not lead to aircraft landing with below the minimum level of fuel available.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are significant gains for companies operating aircraft on or below minimum fuel levels?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I am aware of that, and so is the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Any question of aircraft travelling with below the minimum standard would be subject to the most rigorous scrutiny. If any serious offenders were identified, the ultimate sanction would be prosecution for breaches of air navigation orders.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, the Minister referred to priority landings. How many were maydays and how many had declared a PAN call?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, of the low fuel incidents, I recollect that two were PAN calls and three were maydays over the period of time. I shall check the figures. If I find that that is inaccurate, I shall notify my noble friend.