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THE COMET SITUATION
Flight 7 May 1954
The loss of Comet G-ALYY on April 8th, and the consequent withdrawal of the Certificates of Airworthiness for Comets remaining in airline service, have had far-reaching results. The entire Comet production programme has been "frozen" and the effect on airline planning obviously goes deeper than the present grounding of a small number of Series ls. The situation as it had developed by the beginning of this week was as follows:

Investigation of the three unexplained accidents holds the key to the future of the Comet. A public inquiry into the accidents will be held, but the time and place have not yet been announced. Meanwhile, intense efforts are being made to find possible causes for the disasters. All remaining British operated Comets are now in this country, together with an Air France Series 1A.

Comet G-ALYX, which was in Cairo on the day of the accident to G-ALYY, was flown back on April 21st, and G-ALYW completed its journey back from Colombo on April 27th. Both aircraft were brought back under permits-to-fly; they flew in short stages and maintained an average height of 20,000 ft as a precautionary measure. De Havilland technicians at Hatfield have been conducting detailed examinations of G-ALYU and G-ALYX, and the R.A.E. at Farnborough have taken possession of another B.O.A.C. Series 1, G-ALYS. Plans for flight trials are said to be well advanced, although no details of the form which they will take have been released. It seems probable that most, if not all, of the test flying will be from Farnborough. Structural tests on G-ALVG, the first prototype, have been under way at the R.A.E. since the summer of 1953.

On April 29th a British minesweeper and two Italian trawlers resumed the search for wreckage of G-ALYP, which descended into the Mediterranean off Elba on January 10th. The original salvage operation, called off the day before the loss of G-ALYY, resulted in the recovery of 80 per cent of the wreckage. With the exception of the fin, the tail unit has still to be found.

Production of Comet 2s has virtually ceased, but work is continuing on the almost complete Comet 3 prototype, which is due to fly later this year. At Hatfield, a number of Series 2s which had almost reached the flight-test stage are being completed, but, temporarily at least, all test flying has stopped. De Havilland employees engaged in Comet production at Hatfield and Chester are being transferred to work on Vampire Trainers, Venoms, Doves and Herons. Other steps taken by the manufacturers include a reduction in overtime working, the closing down of a de Havilland training school at Hatfield-not the Aeronautical Technical School-and the suspension of sub-contracts for manufacture of Comet components. At Belfast, where Short Bros. and Harland, Ltd., had expected to produce their first Series 2 by July, Comet production has ceased and 800 of the 1,500 employees engaged on this work were given notice last week. Redundancy at Belfast was discussed in the House of Commons last Monday. Answering a supplementary question, Mr. Duncan Sandys, Minister of Supply, commented that it should not be assumed that the suspension of work on the Comet would necessarily be a lengthy one.

Civil operations which have been immediately affected by the grounding of Comets are, of course, those of B.O.A.C., Air France and U.A.T. Constellations are operating the Air France Comet services and DC-6s have taken over on the U.A.T. routes. B.O.A.C. are taking initial steps to make up for the loss of capacity caused by withdrawal of the Comets. Since April 10th the Corporation's South American services have been suspended to release Argonauts for the African and Eastern routes formerly flown by Comets. In an effort to case this situation, B.O.A.C. have been discussing with Qantas and S.A.A. the possibilities that, on the respective Kangaroo and Springbok partnership services, these Commonwealth airlines should temporarily make available additional capacity or, alternatively, aircraft. It has been suggested that as Qantas are taking delivery of Super Constellations, B.O.A.C. might take over some of the Australian company's six Constellation 749As. However, it had already been agreed that these aircraft should be returned to Lockheed in part payment for the L.1049s; consequently B.O.A.C. might have to pay dollars for the earlier Constellations. Expressing confidence that the cause of the setback to the Comet will be discovered and remedied, the Corporation states positively that it is not contemplating the direct purchase of aircraft from the United States.

On April 16th Japan Air Lines announced that they had asked de Havillands to delay delivery of their two Comet 2s until 1957. The airline said that this request was not connected with the recent accidents: since placing the order J.A.L. had discovered that, in addition to the cost of the aircraft, it would be necessary to spend £2m on runway construction and pilot training; the company could not expend such a sum at this time.

 

 


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