- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 22 Mar 1926, p. 116-127
- Brancker, Sir Sefton, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Toronto leading the way in Canadian Aviation. Airplane grounds in the area: Armour Heights, Leaside, and Camp Borden; a flourishing aircraft factory; a cadet school at the University. The Ontario Government leading the way by employing an air service for forest protection and survey, possibly the largest in the world. The chief concern in civil aviation in England the building up and improving of Imperial communication. Air transport since the end of the War; difficulties that had to be overcome. The results of England 7-1/2 years of work in this field. The platitude that for any form of transport to be a success, it must be safe, reliable, run on time, and comparatively economical. Some statistics with regard to speed, and passenger and cargo air service. The issue of safety. Figures on reliability. Some economic figures. Current work on three broad lines for improvement. Details of ground organization; the progress in building better aircraft; educating the public. Promising traffic prospects, with figures. Mail delivery services in the United States, and in France. The increasingly common carriage of freight by air. Aircraft as the ideal means for shipping bullion. Evidence of increasing traffic. The formation of light airplane clubs. Requirements for membership in the Air Force Reserves. Current and future prospects in terms of Imperial communication; air services to India and elsewhere within the Empire. Airships somewhat delayed by financial cuts and economy committees. Starting to build two really big ships, one by the government and one by private enterprise. Closer communication and increased trade between the various part of the Empire through air traffic.
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- 22 Mar 1926
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PROGRESS IN CIVIL AVIATION
AN ADDRESS BY SIR SEFTON BRANCKER, K.C.B., DIRECTOR OF CIVIL AVIATION IN THE BRITISH AIR MINISTRY.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
Monday, March ,22, 1926.
PRESIDENT KIRKPATRICK introduced the Speaker.
SIR SEFTON BRANCKER
Mr. President and Gentlemen,-I am very much honoured in being asked to address this Club, because Toronto has rather led the way in Canadian Aviation. When I was here in' 1918 Ontario boasted of several airplane grounds--Armour Heights, Leaside, Camp Borden. It also had a very flourishing factory here which turned out a quantity of aircraft, and a cadet school at the University. Now the Ontario Government has led the way in this enterprise in employing an air service for forest protection and survey. It has the biggest organization of that nature in the British Empire, and I think probably the biggest in the world.
In England my chief concern in civil aviation is the building up and improving of Imperial communication. We have been at this problem of air transport since the end of the War. In the seven and a half years since the War we have laboured under a good many handicaps. We have had four changes of government, involving six changes in the system of administration, and the control and development of transport. We were also troubled by international complications which prevented us from flying long distances, and you known we have the worst climate in the world from the aviation point of view. During that period, however, we have arrived at a definite policy. We have amalgamated the old small air transport companies into one big company called "Imperial Airways." We have been promised a total annual subsidy of £1,000,000 spread over ten years on a sliding scale, with £137,000 this year. For that we demand a certain minimum mileage, and promise not to subsidize anybody else within Europe against them. We also demand that all the aircraft and crews shall be British. Beyond that we do not interfere. They can go where they like, and develop their lines in whatever direction they please. Trade and commerce seem to offer the best results, and at this moment they have lines from London to Paris, Zurich to Cologne, Cologne to Central Europe, and a line from Amsterdam which has been running to Berlin. That is the present position in Europe. I have always counted upon the European cross-country services as a series of experiments in Imperial communication.
Before telling you what we are trying to do in that line I will roughly outline some of the results of our seven and a half years' work from England. It is a platitude that any form of transport, to be a success, must be safe, reliable, run on time, and comparatively economical.
Regarding speed, since beginning these regular services in 1919 we have flown over 5,000,000 miles, equal to 200 times around the equator. During that time we carried about 70,000 passengers across the Channel, and 2,000 tons of cargo. There have been only four fatal accidents involving the death of pilots during that period. I think we have proved that air transport properly organized and properly administered is really a very safe means of progress-safer, to my mind, than a good many railway trains in Europe today. I am afraid that sometimes the aviation people themselves are rather apt to frighten the public about flying. A remember an amusing case of a Colonial Office official who had to proceed to Bagdad, and was told to go by air from Ameer, which is beyond Jerusalem across the desert, which would save three weeks traveling time. He never had flown, fearing it was unsafe. It was a muddy day, and at the airdrome, the machines were having trouble in getting off. The official became fussy, and said to the pilot, "Who is responsible for the machine if it is overloaded?" The pilot replied, "I don't know; you had better ask the commanding officer." The official repeated his question to that officer, who very grimly replied, "Well, that is settled at the inquest."
As to reliability, lately we have made the run with 96 per cent of reliability on a schedule program during the summer, and 87 per cent in winter. There you have a thirteen per cent measure of unreliability, which is not good enough for carrying mails, and so on. That is the first thing that we have to try to improve. In analyzing these figures we find that two-thirds of that unreliability is due to bad weather, in other words bad visibility, because there is very little in the quality of any aircraft except in ability to see. The other third is represented by mechanical defects, by which I do not mean engineering failure, or machine breaking down, but delay caused by the machine not being ready, adjustments not having been made, and so on. I will later show how we are getting around that thirteen per cent.
In regard to economy, it is very hard to get down to dependable figures. So far as I can make out we have arrived at the point where with the measure of traffic that we have-about 1,000,000 a year-we are carrying them at the rate of about one dollar per ton mile at 90 miles an hour,-that is covering everything, insurance, overhead charges, advertising, etc. That is rather a high rate.
We are working now at home on three broad lines for improving the position. First, we are trying to improve our ground organization in order to make the service more reliable. Secondly, and most important, we are trying to develop better aircraft and better engines in order to reduce the cost of maintenance and operation, carrying bigger pay loads at the same price, and also incidentally increasing reliability. Thirdly, we are laying ourselves out to educate the public in order to increase traffic because, after all, this form of transport must depend upon public opinion if it is eventually to succeed. It is no use making a public utility that the public cannot use.
Taking the ground organization first, our difficulties in Europe, and to some extent here as regards reliability, are fog and very low clouds and unseen storms. In order to avoid this trouble we are improving our radio communications very considerably. No aircraft will now leave London to cross the Channel unless it has wireless that is working properly. We are developing a system of lighting to make landing in fog possible. Last November we carried out some experiments with this lighting by means of captive balloons which we pulled up and down during the dense London fog, and the results of that and some of the latest wireless experiments lead us to claim that in two or three years we shall have eliminated a large amount of that thirteen per cent of unreliability, and will have brought our winter flying up to the standard of our summer flying, and the summer flying, I hope, to something like 100 per cent instead of 96 per cent. In Australia they have a good climate, and there is a weekly service from Perth, in the north, towards Fort Darwin, and for ten months they maintain 100 per cent reliability. That is partly due to the excellent climate and partly to the fact that if you are giving weekly service for a long distance, small delays and mechanical defects do not mean such a loss of time that you would call it unreliable.
Our next line of progress is better aircraft. The British Government is today spending a good deal of money ordering experimental commercial aircraft. A great many opponents of aviation say that this is wrong in principle, and that the trade should grow up naturally we think it is the only way to keep development going. There is plenty of invention in designs, and in military aircraft because it is felt that if a principal Scout is produced they will get large orders; where as on the commercial side air transport industry is so small and feeble that there is no chance of big orders yet. These will come later. Therefore the Government has taken upon itself to spend money in technical progress while the aircraft industry is slowly getting itself together and becoming strong enough to support its own research and experimental work.
The lines we are taking to get this better aircraft is to look at the operating costs, and I find that the engine maintenance cost is 44 per cent of the total, the maintenance of the aircraft itself, 20°/0; the fuel bill was 30°0, and its remaining 6% cover the flying pay, odds and ends, and insurance, which we think is an overhead one. Taking the engine cost, 44°0; we found 50% of the cost under these three heads: water trouble, 28°0; valve, 19%o; oil trouble, 10°0. You have looked into the value of air-cooled engines in this country. So far as valve and oil troubles are concerned it is only a matter of a little patience and money. Thus we shall have reduced the maintenance of our engines to less than half what it is today.
We are going out for all-metal aircraft, which will have two advantages; first, the superintendence will be lower, because they will not need so much looking after and training out; secondly, metal construction has proven to be lighter than wood. We will thus be able to reduce our maintenance cost and also increase our paying load. There are other matters which will help us to get a better paying load for the same operation. A very big item will be the change to heavy oil instead of the petrol, and the fuel bill will go down with a bump.
We are making progress in obtaining low rates for insurance. Up to the present time insurance has fluctuated a great deal, from about 12% to about 25% on the cost of the machine. Just before I left England I heard some of the latest quotations. One was 17% for the single-engine machine, and only 7% for the three-engine machine. So that you will see the latter figure is an enormous advantage for commercial measurements. The next question is that of more traffic-educating the public. The British people are very conservative. They do not take to aviation with the rapidity that most of us enthusiasts think they ought. I dare say your people today are more enterprising; there is more ginger in the air, and more progress and enterprise altogether. But I must tell you a story of what happened at an airplane meeting to indicate the opinion of the man in the street, and his attitude towards aviation, which is the general attitude of a great many men and women in England today. The incident happened near an airdrome in the south of England. A nice old lady was leaning over the garden wall near the cottage, watching the airplanes making their movements. A friend of aviation wanting to make aviation popular, said to her, "Good morning, mother, are you enjoying yourself?" She replied, " Oh no, I am not." He said, "How is that?-This is very interesting." She said, in reply, " It is like this; ever since I was a little girl when a bumblebee got up my drawers, I have hated them things that buzzed."
Traffic prospects are promising. The number of passengers who crossed the Channel in the last four years was:-1922, 12,200; 1923, 15,500; 1924, 17,500; 1925, just on 20,000. August is our paying month when we get most people in, and in 1923 we carried 2,000; in 1924, 2,600; in 1925, 3,200. So you see that in spite of changes of policy and other difficulties we are progressing, and the public is making increasing demands.
We have not done much yet about mail delivery, because the men have not been able to go far enough. You hear much more of the mail line from New York to San Francisco, which is a very fine line. I think the French have the best in Europe, the service from Toulouse along the east coast of Spain down to Coseblanco, French Morocco, a considerable distance. Their records of letters carried in four years up to 1925 run-
1,500,000, 7,000,000, 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 letters.
So that you see air transport is coming into its own, and beginning to pay.
Freight has been, up to date, rather secondary, but there is no doubt that the carriage of freight by air is becoming more and more common, During the last two years we have been carrying ladies' dresses and hats -of course these are worth considerably more than their weight in gold and they go out of fashion in about ten days; samples of every sort, including wine, films, drugs and medicines; fruit and flowers, etc. Then, curiously enough, beets which were formally imported from Holland, are being imported from Germany by air, Motor cycles and tobacco are being exported to Germany.
And what is especially interesting is that it is becoming clear that aircraft is the ideal means for shipping bullion. Insurance rates are lower because the risk is for a shorter time, and because our records in action are extremely good. Secondly, interest is saved by accelerating the passage of the bullion from one bank to the other. It seems to me that in Canada, with its gold developments in three or four different spots, you may eventually find that the bullion will be carried best and most economically by air. This ought to be a great incentive to the creation of air transport in this country.
Some idea of how traffic is increasing is the fact that at one period last summer, after the silk duties were put on, at Croydon, the air port of London, the customs office was taking £7,000 a week on customs duties on silk good imported from France.
The statements I have made indicate the lines of progress we are working on in order to get better reliability and more traffic. In working it out on paper I have concluded that in the next five years or a little longer we shall have reduced operating costs from $1.00 to about 50 cents or 60 cents per ton mile; then it will be very nearly a commercial proposition, and will not be in need of any artificial assistance from the Government.
Another method of getting the general interest of the public in air transport is the formation of light airplane clubs. We have formed fine now in the big centres in England-London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle Leeds- and I think there are others springing up. We have given these clubs a grant of £2,000 for the purchase of airplanes, and have promised them £1,000 a year for two years to maintain them. Of course all this money comes back to the aircraft industry, as it is not allowed to be used for anything but airplanes and their engines. These clubs have proved great successes. They have started flying power, We give a bonus of £ 10 for every pilot turned out, and already a number of pilots have been developed. There is keen competition all along the line, and numbers are waiting for membership. The clubs have doubled their receipts by contributions from private members, so that it looks as if this movement will produce great results all through the country. The great thing is that the Government is superintending as little as possible; it hands us the money, then we are allowed to do what we like. There are no military restrictions or military liability, but anybody who gets his pilot service at any of the clubs can be a professional member of the Air Force Reserves, and in that capacity get a lot more training at Government expense. We hope this is going to get the people into the air very much in future.
Coming again to Imperial communication; for some time an air service to India has been mooted; it was the first obvious step. Canada is too difficult at present, as you have too much sea, whereas in going to India one can hop from land to land, and there are not a great many expanses of water to be covered. About eighteen months ago I managed to get a small sum of money and authority to go out to India by air and have a look at the route. We were away three or four months, and I had that excellent pilot; Cobham. We came back as we went, with the same machine, the same engine, the same crew, and we carried everything that we wanted with us, even to the extent of a spare propeller. We got a few engine spares at one place, but otherwise it was just like a ship leaving London and going to Rangoon and coming back. The only thing we depended for on the way was fuel and our own food; otherwise we lived on what we could carry. That trip made me very much more optimistic. When with a small single-engine machine, which really was of an obsolete type and without any organization in front of you, it ought to be perfectly simple with some modern machines and a proper ground organization to run the whole of that line with regularity and perfect safety.
Now we are going a step further. After a lot of negotiations we got the Imperial Airways to a new contract for five years, and next Christmas time they will start aircraft between Cairo, through Baghdad to Karachi and India. The idea of taking that first Imperial trip was because Europe today is so difficult that one cannot lay down a clear policy and go ahead with certainty. There are disagreements between France and Germany, and we are not allowed to fly across Germany at present. We have two good steamship services per week at Cairo as a feeder to the air service, and from Cairo we cross to Egypt, Palestine, Turkey and Persia to India, which is comparatively easy. , Egypt is only too happy that we should fly. Palestine, of course, is a mandated place. Iraq is only too keen to help. Although difficulties with Persia were suggested, they have done everything in their power to make things easy, and in addition to these facilities we hope for a very much better climate than we would have in Europe. We are given considerable subsidy for that five years, and we hope the Indian Government will then build up their Karachi route across India to Rangoon, which is perfectly easy, and perhaps it will give them some money. When the service reaches Rangoon the responsibility passes back to the Imperial Government, and we can even carry on from Rangoon to Singapore, and to Australia along the Dutch Islands.
Meantime we have our contract with the Imperial Airways in Europe, and they are going to try and get their way through by degrees and join up with Cairo or at some point in Palestine. They have ordered a new fleet of big ships with three air-cooled engines to operate on that route. These machines should be ready towards the fall, and I hope that the first service may open somewhere about the first of December.
Turning to airships, which, from the Imperial point of view, actually affect Canada more closely than airplanes, we are going on as quickly as we can, but are somewhat delayed by these dreadful financial cuts and economy committees, etc., at home. We are actually starting to build two really big ships, one by the government and the other by private enterprise, with a capacity of 5,000,000 cubic feet, which is considerably more than twice the size of any heretofore. They will be fitted to carry 100 passengers, with sleeping accommodation as good, probably better, than Pullman cars, a lounge in which those hundred passengers can sit at one time, a dining-room in which fifty can dine, and even a small smoking room. These ships are designed to fly from London to India in 100 hours, with possibly one stop; the more enthusiastic say a stop will not be necessary. We are building the base at Karachi and the temporary halting place at Ismalia, Egypt. Neither of these is selected from the commercial point of view: Ismalia is chosen because we can put a up mosque there without any question, and Karachi is selected because it has the best climate, and we want to give the experiment the best possible chance in the earlier stages. The two ships are of different types. The Government ship is to be built of structural steel, and equipped with heavy engines. The private ship is to be built of duralumin and equipped with engines operated by a combination of kerosene and hydrogen, which is a new departure. Between the two we will be making a very important experiment.
If we can make that experiment a success and give proof that there is something in it, we hope that some big commercial organization will take those ships over, preferably one of the big ship companies, and extend that service from India on to Australia. Probably the final line for a thing of that sort would be via Egypt, and Colombo in Ceylon, thence to Singapore, and then on to Australia, touching at those four points; and at Egypt, Colombo and Singapore airplane lines would radiate. Already we are organizing this route across the Syrian desert to Iraq and Persia, and from Singapore up to the China coast, and from the west coast of Australia right across the continent-in fact they already have the services running there.
There is little doubt that we can prove this airship experiment if enterprising persons will construct airplanes between London and Canada. Our big airport, 50 miles north of London, is already being constructed; the old small station is being modified at present.
If we can get the kind of airship that gives about 60 miles an hour it will mean that, measuring flying as against the time taken by present methods, we would get Canada somewhere two-thirds of the way across the Atlantic towards the Old Country; Australia will be up where Somaliland is, India will be where Egypt is, and England would be near French Morocco. I leave you to imagine the rest.
The whole question of mutual understanding and cooperation depends on personal contact, and you may write letters and telegrams and official correspondence and all the rest of it, but they will not do nearly as much good as ten minutes' talk; that is my experience in life -that you have to get to see the man before you can really deal with him.
There are many questions asked: Will airships interfere seriously with shipping and trade? I think not. Taking the case of Australia, shipping takes six weeks to get there, and six weeks back, and if a passenger spends three weeks there it is a long time. Air service means that Australia is only 12 days from England-and it took me 12 days to struggle across the Atlantic on this present trip in bad weather. The air service will reduce the time so that you would have double the number of people coming out to Australia, because men in a hurry cannot come now. The result of course would prove, by increased visiting, that there would be increased trade, and the ordinary transport would be carried by ships. Therefore they would benefit. I think it would be the same in Canada; if more people could get here in 48 hours instead of the considerable time it now takes, you would get at once an increase of traffic between the two countries along all lines, and your people would get the benefit, and all lines of shipping would be increased.
I am proud to say I represent the British Empire on the International Commission on Airplane Navigation. We have been sitting now for three years, and there are 15 or 16 members of that Commission from all parts of the world, most of them from Europe. It has been a most happy family. We have many clashing interests, but personal interests have been sunk, and on every question we have arrived at a satisfactory solution, to which everybody has agreed; and the more I see of it the more I am convinced that air-flying is going to do more towards the peace of Europe than anything else, as it develops and goes on. There is an extraordinary camaraderie in this matter which doesn't exist in any other walk of life, and the very fact that you can fly from one capital to another without being held up by horrid customs difficulties or any difficulties on the frontier, is really a far-reaching psychological fact. I have often said that as far as military aviation went, all my dreams came true, and 1 hope also that I shall live long enough to see some of my dreams in air transport come true, and the greatest dream of all is closer communication between the various parts of the Empire, so we can all meet and learn to understand one another, and go on co-operating to keep the peace of the world and prosperity.