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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for the way she has raised this issue on innumerable occasions and with care and diligence. I put my name down to this particular amendment although I do not think that it is the last word, as she has said. But I would like to hear
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my noble friend on this issue. I hope that the Government will take the whole issue seriously. BALPA has long discussed this issue. It should not be discarded. It is a significant problem but it is not capable of an instant solution.
The noble Countess, Lady Mar, has presented a powerful case, and I am sure that my noble friendI hope at leastwill take on board what she has said. My hope is that the necessary research in the United Kingdomrather than that in the United States; although that is relevant but not wholly persuasiveshould be undertaken speedily but thoroughly and also independently. It is vital that this issue is not susceptible to the criticism that the authority conducting the research is not wholly independent.
I conclude by saying that the noble Countess, Lady Mar, has done a real service by airing this concern. While I say that immediate solutions are not viable, and that the possible solution which she has put down is not necessarily the last word, I think that it is worth while the Government ensuring that this issue is properly researched as soon as possible.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, the issues to which the noble Countess, Lady Mar, has referred represent not just a betrayal of the interests of air crews and airline passengers but a disaster waiting to happen. With the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, I co-signed her amendment and new schedule relating to the role and responsibilities of the CAA and the need to establish a much more robust system to monitor risks and health threats and insist on remedial action. It is time that we had that action.
Let me illustrate the severity of the problem. Last week, I received answers to a series of parliamentary Questions about the recent in-flight incidents in which BALPA, the pilots' association, had reported to me that there had been evidence of air contamination in the cockpit or passenger area. As previously there has been serious illnessboth acute and chronicamong air crews, I take those very seriously.
Why not? What is so extraordinary is that I had asked about a previous incident involving a Boeing 757 and was told that the CAA had no record. Subsequently, the department and the CAA had to be reminded of that by BALPA and the Minister had to admit that,
"that was unfortunately not reported to the CAA at the time by the airline due to an administrative oversight . . . We remain satisfied with the effectiveness of this system because it enables both airlines and crews separately to report incidents to the independent regulator".[Official Report, 16/2/06; cols. WA 8788.]
The Government may be reassured by that, but no one else iscertainly not those in the industry. As was so well explained in the excellent examination of this issue in the Observer on 26 February, even the most
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experienced officers and air crews are reluctant to report incidents. Some reasons for that have been given by the noble Countess. Self-regulation and monitoring by airlines, let alone by manufacturers, is woefully inadequate.
In that exposé in the Observer, several pilots whose careers had been ended when they reported illness consequent on incidents of that kind explained why. Anthony Barnett, the paper's investigations editor, spoke also to Captain B,
Those are not new problems. They have been on the Government's desk for six years to my certain knowledge. I was first alerted to them in December 1999, when I received an alarming report from Sweden that stated that on 12 November of that year an unidentified toxic gas had almost caused catastrophe in a BAe 146 aircraft operated by Braathens Malmo Aviation. In the subsequent debate in the other place, I explained what happened. I stated:
"On the first part of a three-part trip, the cabin attendants felt strange and experienced incredible pressure. One attendant described the experience as like a 'moonwalk.' On the second leg, the discomfort returned, and the two pilots experienced it too. On the third leg, to Sturrup airport, the cabin manager realised that something was seriously wrong, went forward to the cockpit before landing and found that both pilots were wearing their oxygen masks. The captain was so near to blackout, in his words:
Ministerial replies then and thereafter were constantly reassuringand misleading. Self-regulation has proved dangerously inadequate. Frankly, I do not trust aircraft, engine or lubricant manufacturers, let alone the airlines, to undertake the necessary monitoring, testing and remedial action required for this continuing, very dangerous problem. The potential poachers cannot fulfil the role of effective, independent gamekeepers. The scale of the risk requires a far more robust and independent approach.
As I previously pointed out, the BAe 146 aircraft, which has so often been affected by incidents in Australia and on the Continent as well as here in the UK, is still used by the Queen's Flight. Prince Philip and Princess Anne are both reported to have complained in 2000 of unpleasant fumes on flights in such aircraft. Indeed, Members of your Lordships' House may well have flown in an official capacity in a BAe 146 and may be able to add to that sorry saga.
Representatives of pilots and air crews have prepared an 18-page dossier for submission to the chairman of the CAA on those issues. I trust that the Minister will take very seriously the collapse of confidence among responsible airline staff in the reporting regime and the consequent examination of risky incident and air causes.
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I hope that the Minister will respond positively to the amendments tabled by the noble Countess. I also hope that our future exchanges will produce more informative answers. In the mean time, I have six very quick questions for him.
First, he has already referred to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. I was a Member of the other place when that Act was passed. It is quite clear that it does not apply to an aircraft in flight. Which government agency or department has full responsibility for the health and safety of airline passengers once the aircraft has left the ground and UK territory? Has that body undertaken any research or obtained medical feedback from passengers after an air contamination incident in the aircraft has been reported?
Next, how do the CAA and the Minister define the difference between incapacity of a pilot or aircrew and reduced efficiency? Next, even BAe and the lubricant manufacturers now admit that there is a potentially serious problem. Why is the research study undertaken under the auspices of BAe being kept secret? BALPA figures show that only about half of reported incidents of that sort reached the CAAprobably representing less than 5 per cent of the total that actually occur. Surely the Government must deal with that growing discrepancy.
As I mentioned earlier, one parliamentary Question that I tabled referred to the air contamination incident on Boeing 757 G-BIKI on 9 November 1998. The Minister told me that the CAA had no record of that incident, but then had to confess to an error in the system. That was no minor incident. The mandatory occurrence report was entitled, "Toxic Fumes in the Flightdeck". The captain who filed the MOR was subsequently retired due to ill health by his airline, but the CAA has never even heard about it. What better evidence of failure can there be?
In the interests of safety and good health for pilots, cabin staff and passengers, we need a radical change and we need it now. I should like to be reassured by the Minister that he and his team have read the full report from the conference at Imperial College last April on contaminated air protection. That is what the amendments address. The issues are urgent. I hope that we will get action now.
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