DC10 Aircraft (Grounding)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th June 1979.

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Photo of Mr Clinton Davis Mr Clinton Davis , Hackney Central 12:00 am, 11th June 1979

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the grounding of DC10 aircraft operated by British airlines.

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Hertfordshire South

The grounding of the British-registered DC10s by the Civil Aviation Authority is the direct consequence of the withdrawal by the Federal Aviation Administration of the aircraft's type certificate.

Because the CAA is substantially influenced by the type certificate issued by the country of manufacture when first issuing a certificate of airworthiness for an imported aircraft, the withdrawal of the type certificate was naturally an important development, and the CAA, having considered the matter, decided that it was necessary to suspend the United Kingdom certificates of airworthiness for the time being for DC 10s registered here.

A vigorous technical evaluation of the DC10 problem is being carried out in the United States and in the United Kingdom. The CAA is doing all that it can and has been in constant touch with the FAA. It has sent two airworthiness experts to the United States to learn at first hand whether the evidence avail- able to the FAA indicates a need for continued grounding of the aircraft on the United Kingdom register.

I very much regret the inconvenience caused to the public and the economic loss to the airlines affected by the groundings. The safety of passengers must, however, remain the first consideration of the CAA, which must be convinced that the DC10s on the British register are fit for flight before they are reintroduced into passenger service.

Photo of Mr Clinton Davis Mr Clinton Davis , Hackney Central

Is the Minister aware that we are pleased that the CAA has effected this close liaison with the FAA over this important matter and with his statement that safety must be the paramount consideration here?

The inconvenience to the public and the real blow that this must be to the two main British airlines operating DC10s—British Caledonian and Laker Airways—must be recognised, but does the Minister agree that the FAA has taken a courageous decision, despite the commercial pressures that have been put upon it?

Will the Minister give some indication, if he has any news to this effect at the moment, whether the FAA has formed a view that the DC 10 suffers from a serious design fault rather than having been simply subject to operators failing to follow correct maintenance procedures? What discussions have taken place between his departmental officials and/or the CAA with the British airlines involved, especially on the question of insurance?

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Hertfordshire South

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said about the close co-operation between the CAA and the FAA. Both are working to deal with this problem as a matter of great urgency. I echo what he said about the courageous decision to ground this plane when commercial pressures must have been considerable.

We have no information at present from the FAA. As soon as we have, of course we shall communicate it to the House.

The Department is keeping in close contact with the CAA, which is keeping us informed of every development.

Photo of Mr Robert McCrindle Mr Robert McCrindle , Brentwood and Ongar

I echo the Minister's welcome to close co-operation between the CAA and the American authorities. Has there been any move for the CAA to engage in independent technical investigation of the DC10, especially as the version of the aircraft operated by British Caledonian and Laker Airways is the DC10-30, which has not been the source of any complaint until now?

Will the Minister comment on the likely effect of the suggestion made this morning that other wide-bobied aircraft were to be the subject of investigation by the United States aviation authorities, and whether that is likely to have any effect on the services of British Airways?

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Hertfordshire South

These are very much matters for the CAA, which was set up by Parliament to take decisions on these matters. It would be improper for Parliament to attempt to bring pressure to bear on the CAA or try to hasten it in doing the job given to it by Parliament.

On the question of an independent consideration, when the certificate of airworthiness is granted, the facts and the technical details which have been discovered by the country of origin are made available to the CAA and form the main basis of the decision that is taken.

The CAA needs to have access to the findings of the FAA before it can arrive at an independent decision on this matter. It will need to know what the FAA is finding out and use its own judgment in arriving at a decision.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

May I press the Minister on the question of insurance, which was not answered? Will the Minister confirm that Laker Airways and British Caledonian are not covered by their loss insurance and say what help the Government and the CAA may give to those companies in this obviously great loss to them?

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Hertfordshire South

The insurance of the aircraft is a matter for the companies concerned and their insurance companies. We have no information on whether this risk was covered by the companies' insurance policies.

Photo of Mr Michael Neubert Mr Michael Neubert , Romford

Without seeking to minimise the gravity of the issues raised by the DC10 crash, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees that we should not underestimate either the potential inconvenience to the travelling public or the commercial damage done by the doubts now raised about all types of wide-bodied aircraft? Does he agree that it is imperative that the limits of these doubts should be circumscribed as quickly and as progressively as possible?

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Hertfordshire South

My hon. Friend is correct in saying that it is important for the travelling public to have confidence in wide-bodied aeroplanes. I am sure that his remarks have been noted and that the CAA will do what it can to reassure the public, to whom it is answerable.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

Will the Minister think again about his remark that it would be improper for Parliament to bring pressure to bear on the CAA? Surely the concern of this House must be with the safety of passengers. There are many pressures in the other direction. Does the Minister agree that if the FAA had grounded the DC10 in 1972 many people would not have died in Paris as a result of the second of eight in-flight accidents that this type of plane suffered?

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Hertfordshire South

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity of clearing up any misunderstanding that may have arisen from my earlier remark. I was trying to say that we must express the concern of the public to the CAA, but we must not put any pressure on it to bend any rules which it has established for ensuring that aircraft meet the required safety limits. I was trying to make that point.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

Will my hon. Friend take all steps within his power to ensure that the decision taken by the CAA results from its own stress analysis rather than that of the manufacturer? Will he bear in mind that many British subjects died, quite avoidably, as a result of the lack of integrity of the McDonnell Douglas company—there is no other word for it—after it was aware of the design defects in the door locking arrangements in the DC10? Will the Minister do everything in his power to ensure that the CAA's decision in this country does not rely upon technical information supplied by the manufacturer that has not been checked independently by the CAA?

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Hertfordshire South

I am sure that the CAA will have noted my hon. Friend's remarks, but I am equally sure that in arriving at its decision the CAA will take account of all available data and will arrive at its own independent conclusion.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Is the Minister happy about the obligation that a British technical evaluation programme must await American findings? Is that necessary?

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Hertfordshire South

The aeroplane crashed in America. The detailed investigation is being carried out by the FAA, which is the responsible authority. Our access to the information that is obtained must be through the FAA. Therefore, the CAA is bound to work closely with the FAA in arriving at the facts.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

In view of these great matters of air safety that have arisen, will the Minister give a guarantee that there will be no cutbacks in public expenditure as it affects the CAA?