HC Deb 17 May 1999 vol 331 cc248-50W
Mr. Heald

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) what regulations are in place to prevent(a) debris and (b) ice falling from aircraft; [84378]

(2) what discussions he has had in the past year with the CAA relating to (a) debris and (b) ice falling from aircraft over Hertfordshire; [84380]

(3) what steps he plans to take to improve aircraft safety relating to (a) debris and (b) ice falling from aircraft; [84375]

(4) what reports he has received about (a) debris and (b) ice falling from aircraft in the past year; and if he will make a statement; [84377]

(5) if he will meet representatives of the CAA to discuss the recent incidents of (a) debris and (b) ice falling from aircraft over Hertfordshire. [84379]

Ms Glenda Jackson

The Government and Civil Aviation Authority take seriously all occurrences of ice and debris falling from aircraft. The primary way to tackle the problem is to ensure that regulations on the safe manufacture and operation of aircraft are adhered to. There are many such regulations: for example, before aircraft can be entered on national registers they must meet the appropriate standards for design and construction of aircraft, including resistance to leakage of on-board water or toilet systems which is the main cause of the build up of ice on the exterior of aircraft.

The CAA is responsible for the safety regulation of aircraft registered in the UK and applies airworthiness requirements rigorously. They, together with the aviation industry have taken a number of specific, practical steps to reduce the occurrence of ice and debris falling. These steps include:

  • the introduction of manufacturers' modification kits to improve resistance to water leaks at servicing points
  • enhanced maintenance requirements
  • unannounced inspections by CAA Safety Regulation Group Surveyors checking airworthiness standards
  • recording of occurrences and investigation by the Safety Regulation Group.

Incidents are rare in relation to the volume of air traffic. In the last twelve months, 24 incidents have been recorded of icefall and 16 of other falling objects; this level of occurrence has not risen in the last five years, despite significant increases in traffic over that period.

It is an offence under articles 48 and 56 of the Air Navigation (No 2) Order 1995 to drop or permit articles to be dropped from an aircraft so as to endanger persons or property. The CAA will investigate incidents reported to them and prosecute offenders if there is sufficient information to identify the aircraft involved. It is not always possible to confirm the precise origin of ice or debris, because of problems in establishing the precise timing of incidents, the trajectory of falling items and the possible number of aircraft in the area at the time.

Ministers have had no specific discussions with the CAA in the last year about incidents of debris or ice falling from aircraft over Hertfordshire. I am aware of the unfortunate incident recently in which a block of ice fell through the roof of a house in Hertfordshire and the CAA is investigating the incident.