Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 3 April 1957

Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) .- The bill before the House asks the Parliament to sanction the borrowing of 27,000,000 dollars. This amount is, of course, less than the amount that will be required, because the seven Boeing aircraft alone will cost just over 30,000,000 dollars, and we have also to finance the purchase of four Super-Constellations. Although 1 am guessing at the figure, I suppose that they will cost about 10,000,000 or 12,000,000 dollars. Admittedly a re-purchase agreement has been negotiated, so that those aircraft that become obsolescent, by i.n\ modern standards, will be re-purchased later.

This amount of approximately 40,000,000 dollars is by no means inconsiderable, and we in this House must ask ourselves whether the loan is justified. We must ask. first, whether dollars are readily available and, secondly, whether comparable aircraft were available from the sterling area. Let me take the first question: Are dollars readily available? I know that if I occasionally ask for a few hundred dollars for a constituent of mine who wishes to go to the United States of America on a business trip, a howl of rage goes up from the Treasury officials, lt may be much easier to get a million dollars from them. If. however, one looks at the trade balances between Australia aDd the United States of America for last year and the year before, one sees that v/e have been constantly in debt. In other words, we have been buying far more from the United States than that country has bought from us. In the last financial year we had a deficit of £A.50,000,000 on our trading with the United States. One of the facts of life that I have learned is that it is very much easier to raise a loan than to pay it back afterwards. We must think about the repayment of these loans. In the current financial year, although we seem to be doing a little better, we will probably finish up down the drain to the tune of about £A.20,000,000. 1 fail to see how we are going to repay 40,000.000 dollars, in addition to all our other commitments, while America continues its policy of trading with us to only a limited extent, and of dumping subsidized products in various markets of the world in which, in the past, we have been able to sell many of our own products. as vs the present trade set-up exists between Australia and the United States, "i fail in see ):->w we can repay ibis Uri ti. As the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has said, we are getting ourselves into a position in which we must borrow money to pay the interest on money that we have previously borrowed. That is not a happy situation, particularly in prosperous times. I shall say no more about that aspect of the matter.

The second question that I think the House must consider is whether comparable aircraft were available in the sterling area. The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) has said that they were not. I beg to differ. I do not know who will be thought to be right. I know that this is a question on which the most expert authorities differ. After all, we have only to consider the two airline companies that are running the Kangaroo route, the British Overseas Airways Corporation and Qantas. The experts of the former organization are, 1 suppose, reasonably well-informed, and they selected British aircraft, the Britannia and the Comet, for that route. The expels of Qantas have selected the Boeing 707 for the same route. Admittedly Qantas intends to use these aircraft on the Pacific route also, on which there is nothing like the same volume of traffic.

Let mc reply to an interjection that the Minister for Immigration made during the speech of the honorable member for Melbourne. The Minister said that the British Overseas Airways Corporation has ordered these Boeing aircraft.

Mr Townley - No, I said American aircraft.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - The Minister will be the first to admit that these American aircraft that have been ordered for the British Overseas Airways Corporation are fitted with British engines, the Rolls-Royce Conway bypass engine - a very specific type of jet for use entirely on one route, the longrange trans-Atlantic route. These aircraft are, at the present moment, the only jet aircraft which will be available in the reasonably near future that will be able to fly non-stop across the north Atlantic from, say, Paris to New York. They will never be used in this country, at least in the foreseeable future. To begin with, they require an extraordinary length of runway to take off. In a recent survey of 58 major aerodromes in the world, only one was discovered that would be able to cope with this American-designed jet aircraft.

We cannot, therefore, expect to see them operating in Australia or on the Kangaroo route for a long time to come.

I believe that two types of British aircraft that are operating to-day would be suitable for the purposes of Qantas, either singly or in combination. One of these aircraft is the Bristol Britannia, which is in service to-day with the British Overseas Airways Corporation. It is the largest and fastest transport aircraft in the world, and it has the longest range. The one that is in service at present is, of course, not modern when compared with the later designs, with larger engines, which are on the drawing boards and which will be available later. The second type of aircraft that would be suitable for Qantas is the De Haviland Comet, which is now in service with the Royal Air Force Transport Command, and which will be in production and in service with the British Overseas Airways Corporation before any of the American jets are available.

Let us compare the three types of aircraft, the Boeing, the Britannia and the Comet, because I believe the House should consider this question carefully. As the honorable member for Melbourne has said, we have not been given any information as to why Qantas made the decision that Boeings should be obtained. We just had a bill brought down which said, in effect, "We want 27,000,000 dollars", with no reason being given why British aircraft were not available. As I have said, some experts have decided they want the Boeing, and others have decided that we should manage with the British aircraft. Let us compare these aircraft. It is. of course, most difficult to compare them. For one thing, the two British aircraft are already flying, whilst the American aircraft, which we have on order for 1959 delivery, is not flying. Only the prototype is flying. The figures I am about to give, therefore, amount to what is commonly known in the aircraft trade as " guesstimation ". They are reasonably accurate without being really accurate. For instance, the weight figure usually tends to go up as the time approaches when an aircraft will be in service. This is because many items are added. Therefore, all the figures I am about to give are subject to error one way or the other.

The American Boeing jet will have a speed of approximately 550 miles an hour, the Comet approximately 500 miles an hour, and the Bristol Britannia, which will be in service at the same time as the Boeing, approximately 445 miles an hour. So, there is a slight speed advantage in favour of the American aircraft, but when that is considered in relation to flying time, it is really infinitesimal. I do not think that even Qantas would say that it was necessary to have the fastest machine. For example, on a hop of 1,700 miles, such as from Fiji to Sydney, the Comet would be approximately 18 minutes slower, and the Britannia 24 minutes slower, than the American aircraft. As an hour or two can be lost in circling before landing, obtaining baggage from the aircraft, and certainly in getting baggage through the customs, I cannot see the sense in speeding up the service at great expense. I do not think that any one would quibble about a difference of sixteen or seventeen minutes in the time taken on a long flight.

Now we come to range. The Qantas people have said that the range of the Comet is unsatisfactory. It is an interesting point that the original Comet I. was ordered by Canadian Pacific Airlines to be flown on the Canadian Pacific route, but unfortunately it crashed at Karachi while being flown out here. The Comet IV. has a range considerably greater than that of the Comet I., and if the Comet I. was to be used by Canadian Pacific Airlines, the Comet IV. should be suitable for us. The Comet IV. has a range of just over 3,000 miles, into a head wind of 50 miles an hour, still allowing time for circling. There is no route anywhere on the Pacific run, and certainly not on the Kangaroo run, which would require a range as great as that. The Britannia, of course, has an incredibly long range. The 312, about which I am speaking, and which will be in service at about the same time as the American jet, will have a range of approximately 6,900 miles, which means that it will be able to fly direct from Sydney to San Francisco, still allowing sufficient reserve for circling. Its range is far greater than that of the American jet, which has a range of approximately 3,500 miles. So that in respect of range, there is nothing in favour of the American jet.

Now we come to ability to use existing aerodromes. The aircraft on order for the British Overseas Airways Corporation will need 10,000 feet of runway. Mascot has a runway of less than 8,000 feet. Even though the aircraft ordered by Qantas are smaller, they still will not be able to take off from Mascot fully laden. They will, no doubt, be able to use the existing runway, but not with a full load. At Fiji, which has a runway 1,500 feet less than that of Mascot, they will have to take off with considerably less load, which means that they will either have to reduce their fuel or reduce the number of passengers. On the other hand, both the British aircraft are designed especially to operate from all existing aerodromes and will have no difficulty in taking off from any reasonably sized aerodrome on both the Kangaroo route and the Pacific route.

While I am speaking about the use of existing aerodromes, I might mention that we do not have to look only at the length of runway or the weight of the aircraft. In some cases, aerodromes will have to be strengthened to enable them to take these large American jets. Certainly, the Fiji aerodrome will have to be strengthened, and I understand that the San Francisco aerodrome also will have to be strengthened. In addition, we must consider the noise aspect. At present, as honorable members know, jet aircraft are not allowed to use any of the New York aerodromes, and it is reasonably certain that once jet aircraft commence operating here, unless there is a considerable degree of success in reducing the noise, they will not be allowed to operate at the main aerodromes. I know that a great deal of work is being done in this respect, and we are all hopeful that, by the time jet aircraft come into operation, the noise level will have been reduced considerably. At the present time, measured by decibels, the noise level of jet aircraft is about half as much again as is that of the ordinary piston engine aircraft. I suggest, therefore, that it is of no use to speed up the hop from, say, Fiji to Sydney, if the aircraft have to be sent to Newcastle to land, and the passengers transported from there to Sydney by train.

Mr Falkinder - There is always the problem of diversion of aircraft.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - Yes, there is the problem of diversion. The cost of the American jet aircraft is, of course, far greater than that of any of the British aircraft. The carrying capacity of the American jet is 120, whilst that of the Bristol Britannia is 110, so that there is not very much between the two in that respect. The Comet, however, is considerably smaller and, depending on the seating arrangement, takes between 60 and 75 passengers. The cost of the American aircraft is- approximately £2,100,000, whereas both the English aircraft can be bought for a mere EA. 1, 250,000. Once again, therefore, the advantage is in favour of the British aircraft. So, too, is the advantage in respect of delivery date. I understand that, even now, and certainly at the time Qantas made its inquiries and placed its order, delivery from England could be had far earlier than from America. Cost of operation would, of course, be similar for the two jets, but it would be considerably less for the Bristol Britannia, because a turbo-prop aircraft is much more economical and has a very much greater range. Fuel consumption is not so great, with corresponding lower operating cost.

Summarizing the advantages of the British aircraft, there is the lower purchase cost; there is lower operating cost; they could use the available aerodromes; they are of British manufacture; they could be delivered earlier than could the American aircraft; spares and servicing could be shared with the British Overseas Airways Corporation, because the corporation would be using the same type of aircraft on some of the routes, including the Kangaroo route; and the British aircraft are flying now.

There is absolutely nothing in favour of the Super Constellation, which is being purchased now. It is an obsolescent aircraft, and it beats me why any modern airline would purchase more of this type. To do so is analogous to a railway operator purchasing a steam train when he could get a diesel. There is a slight advantage in favour of the Boeing 707, over the Comet, in respect of range, and also some slight advantage in respect of speed. The Boeing is just on 100 miles an hour faster than the Britannia, but against that, it has only half the range of the Britannia.

Taking all in all, it seems to me that the British aircraft would be the best bet. Surely, however, there is something intangible to support all these tangibles in favour of purchasing British aircraft. Surely we should assist the- British aircraft industry! The American aircraft industry has a tremendous home market and does not really have to worry so much about orders from abroad, but the British industry is fighting hard. It is doing well. Last year it exported £100,000,000 worth of aircraft. If Australia, as a British country, does not support the British aircraft industry, can we expect any other country to do so? The British aircraft must be good. Otherwise, they would not have been ordered by American and Canadian airlines, which could have ordered any other types of aircraft available. I believe that American and Canadian airlines have placed orders for 67 Britannias and 45 Comets. We want to see more such orders placed. My view is that we in this Parliament should insist that, if the balance were reasonably even, we should purchase British aircraft rather than American aircraft, f consider that, if anything, the balance is slightly in favour of the British aircraft.

Mr Whitlam - Are you going to vote against the bill?

Mr FAIRBAIRN - I shall do so if it comes to a vote. Is it necessary for Qantas always to have the fastest aircraft? I do not think it is. There is a Viscount service now between Melbourne and Sydney. If every one wanted to travel by Viscounts, the smaller airlines, such as the Ansett organization, would not get any customers, but we know that the Ansett Convairs are always packed. If an airline provides a good, comfortable and reliable service, it does not matter whether its aircraft take a few minutes longer for the journey than the aircraft of other companies, because people will use that service just as much as the other, faster services. Similar remarks apply to shipping services across the North Atlantic. It is well known that " Queen Mary " is not the fastest ship on that route, but it is always full. I do not think that we are bound to buy the fastest jet aircraft available, merely because some company suddenly produces a new machine. Unfortunately, the world is suffering from jet hysteria and airline operators are rushing in madly to buy bigger and faster jet aircraft.

I think that 1 have put the case, as I see it, clearly. I believe that Qantas has looked at this matter only from the selfish viewpoint of the operation of its services. Its advisers have said, " Possibly we should do belter with the Boeings ", but that is a debatable point. I do not agree with them. Qantas has looked at this matter only from the viewpoint of the operation of its services, but we in the National Parliament ought to look at it from the national viewpoint. My first point is that we must ask ourselves, Are dollars available for this purpose "? I have tried to show that, although we may be able to borrow the dollars, we may not be able to repay them. The second point that I have tried to make is that we have a duty to support the British aircraft industry, and 1 think we should direct Qantas what to do. My third point is that if we bought British aircraft the problem of spare parts would not be so acute, because, on some routes, Qantas operates in conjunction with the British Overseas Airways Corporation. For all of those reasons, I oppose this purchase by Qantas and I oppose the bill.

Suggest corrections