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Column 634comment in the report. A legal requirement to do that applies to each of the AAIB reports. I refer the right hon. Gentleman and the House to regulation 11 of the Air Accidents Investigation Regulations 1983.
The comments of those whose reputations may be affected might affect the reports conclusions. It is perfectly reasonable that people should be given the opportunity to make their comments known. I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the report, which is more than 200 pages long. Producing it has taken months, which is reasonable, because world-wide attention will be focused on it, and it deals with issues that the right hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned. I hope that this opportunity to reply to the right hon. Gentleman will correct some of the impressions that have surrounded the accident and subsequent investigation.
The right hon. Gentleman reminded us that 55 human beings died in an accident that should have been completely survivable. I think that that is the main point that he advanced. The report states that many factors came together to produce this tragic result. It made 106 findings and 31 recommendations. The complexity of the interrelated causes of the fatalities and the thoroughness with which the accident has been investigated are self-evident reasons why the report has taken so long to produce. Recent accident reports have appeared, on average, 15 months after the accident. This one is exceptional in every way. It is a landmark report in the investigation of aircraft fires. The House will want to join me in paying tribute to the investigators.
The delay in publication has had no effect whatever on the timing of recommendations and subsequent action. The inspector makes recommendations to the appropriate organisation as soon as he has concluded that such a recommendation is warranted. The CAA, which has the statutory responsibilility for the safety regulation of civil aviation, took note of the recommendations addressed to it and acted on them immediately. Immediate action leads to results in the future.
The CAA was aware of previous research on smoke hoods, which did not entirely accord with the view in the report. Some of the comments made on the day of the release of the report suggested that some people who were quoted as experts held views and were contributing to the debate. Research, in concert with the United States, France and Canada, was carried out and a specification developed which was presented to other people for comment. The final specification was agreed. It might be worth while the right hon. Gentleman acknowledging that that was a good action to take with others who have a keen professional interest and knowledge. I understand that three types of smoke hoods have recently been presented to the CAA for possible approval. All this takes time.
Some people say that the CAA specification is too demanding. As a frequent airline passenger, I agree with the CAA. I am offering a view not as an expert but as someone who realises that, if all the miles travelled on road were travelled in the air, instead of 5,000 there would be 650 deaths. The CAA believes that the donning of, and possible false sense of security given by, smoke hoods may delay evacuation. It would be quite wrong, because it could increase fatalities, to provide the worst of both worlds by delaying evacuation as a result of a less than adequate smoke hood. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned sprinkler systems, which promise a great leap forward. The best distribution
Column 635system must be determined for in-service aircraft, not just for scrap cabins used for fire drills. The question needs to be raised whether the system could go off inadvertently in flight. If it did, what would be the effect on the aircraft's electrical and electronic systems? We do not yet know the answer to these questions and the work takes time.
The need for such consultation, research or development applies to 24 of the 31 recommendations in the report. The remaining seven resulted in definitive action soon after being made.
Fires in aircraft are not new. The AAIB report on the Boeing 707 training accident on 17 March 1977 included a recommendation that further research should be urgently undertaken into the prevention and control of aircraft interior fires. Work was carried out and, indeed, was being carried out prior even to that accident. Much of the effort went into preventing fires occurring in the first place, such as the anti-misting kerosene research.
Until the Manchester accident, the main thrust of the research was directed to preventing cabin materials from cathcing fire. In fact, on 20 May 1985, three months before the Manchester tragedy, the CAA issued a directive requiring improved fire-resistant materials for aircraft seats. Since the accident, the industry now appreciates that the gases and fumes produced when these materials ignite is just as important as, if not more important than, their initial ignition. I have dealt with those few items in some detail rather than trying to cover, necessarily superficially in the time available, all the recommendations. The ones that I have chosen are, together with the apparent delay in
Column 636publication, those that seem to be of most public interest and have on occasion been the subject of the least-informed comment. It has to be remembered that fire casualties form a small proportion of aircraft accident casualties. Effort must be allocated according to the degree of risk to passengers. For example, from the investigation of the Kegworth crash we may discover different needs. I refer not just to the primary cause but also to the secondary events, which, as so tragically at Manchester, can lead to the loss of life.
No one would suggest that the regulatory authorities or, indeed, the accident investigators have a monopoly of expertise in aircraft safety. In comments on this accident, we have seen too many specialists extrapolating expertise to wider areas where different circumstances apply. The best way of preventing such accidents in the future--which is what the right hon. Gentleman and I are dedicated to--is informed debate and consultation worldwide. Short cuts to conclusions, which we have seen outside this House, can only serve to deflect the effort of those concerned away from their primary task of making air travel even safer.
I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising this subject. There may have been one or two minor points of disagreement between us, but the general concern to make aviation travel-- airports and planes--safe is one that we all share.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes to Eleven o'clock.
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