During a lifetime of proud involvement in the British aviation scene, I have watched with dismay as we have descended to today's position, where Britain no longer builds any whole aircraft on a significant scale, choosing instead to be part of international collaborative programmes like Tornado, Eurofighter and, of course, Airbus. Much of the responsibility for this decline must lie with the huge conglomerate that now calls itself BAE Systems. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that it used to call itself British Aerospace. Perhaps that change to an acronym title should have warned us about the company's future intentions.
But while regretting the loss of whole aircraft manufacture, we must surely admire the excellence of BAE System's major collaborative programme with Airbus. Airbus has been the only organisation in the world to take on successfully the otherwise total American hegemony in the enormous worldwide market for bigger airliners. And one very important element of Airbus's extraordinary success has been its highly advanced and uniquely efficient wings, all of which have been designed and built in Britain by BAE Systems' part of the Airbus organisation.
BAE Systems' plan to sell up and go for further junior involvement in American military aviation will be another gross betrayal of the uniquely inspirational and successful British aviation ethos.
MHRA needs to be examined next
Sir: The "investigation" by the regulatory watchdog, the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, into the TGN 1412 drug trial was as predictable as it was depressing ("Drugs research in chaos as inquiry finds no reason for failure of trials", 6 April). The question is, who watches the watchdog?
Over two decades, pharmaceutical companies have ridden roughshod over fundamental principles of scientific enquiry such as proper access of scientists to unadulterated raw data. They have done this with the quiet acquiescence of governments and regulatory bodies.
Any proper investigation of this tragic matter would seem almost by definition to involve the MHRA as a subject of further examination rather than as investigator. By ignoring the most important recommendations of the Health Select Committee about the plausibility of the MHRA, the Government has sent out all the wrong messages. Unless we get to grips with this problem, we will leave these volunteers, good researchers and the whole process of science hanging in the wind.
DR AUBREY BLUMSOHN
Sir: Animal tests have remained central to the drug development paradigm, despite warnings that they cannot be relied upon. Antibody-based medicines, such as TGN 1412, are particularly likely to cause side effects that cannot be safely predicted from one species to another.
The health of volunteers must be safeguarded, but so must the crucial role of volunteer trials. Focus on Alternatives, which represents seven organisations supporting non-animal research techniques, have proposed more test-tube research and safer volunteer studies, using drug microdoses too low to cause side effects. In January, the US Food and Drug Administration said the same. This approach could improve human safety and relieve animal suffering.
DR GILL LANGLEY
CHAIR, FOCUS ON ALTERNATIVES, HITCHIN, HERTFORDSHIRE
Sir: The MHRA has confirmed that the drug that left six trial volunteers fighting for their lives last month was tested in primates at a dose 500 times higher without ill-effects. Clearly animal experiments are not a reliable guide to effects in humans.
Sir: Your article on the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency's interim report on the recent clinical trials incident criticises the agency for not releasing details of the pre-clinical tests and the clinical trial protocol. In fact, we announced at Wednesday's press conference that, under Freedom of Information provisions, we were publishing this and other documentation associated with the clinical trial application. The information is freely available at www.mhra.gov.uk.
PROFESSOR KENT WOODS
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, MEDICINES & HEALTHCARE PRODUCTS REGULATORY AGENCY, LONDON SW8
Savings reduced my pension entitlement
Sir: Joseph Palley (Letters, 8 April) writes from the deprived area of Richmond in Surrey to criticise tax incentives for those he describes as "the well-off", without quantifying what level of wealth he means. I trust he will forgive me if I take such criticism personally, since although my income is actually only a little more than £1000 a month, I would appear to fall into his definition of that happy condition.
My state pension is officially reduced by £25 a week precisely because I made savings from my earned income in the expectation of providing a little comfort during my old age. Inflation means that I have to "invest" anything I don't spend, just to stay in the same place fiscally. To then have to pay tax on my modest savings doesn't exactly produce a sense of fulfilment.
I don't expect to live forever, but like everyone else I'm obliged to budget as though I might. If someone can provide an accurate forecast of the date of my death, I shall then know how long the money needs to last, and perhaps be able to spend a bit more rather than "save" it.
Sir Menzies should use his car sparingly
Sir: Martin Styles (Letters, 8 April) is right to defend Sir Menzies Campbell's right to keep his old Jaguar, but not to clock up high mileages in it. Over the lifetime (say 200,000 cherished miles?) of a nice old Jag that does 20mpg, it will turn 40 tonnes of precious petrol (30 times the car's own weight) into 100 tonnes of harmful CO2. Large numbers of new cars could be made with this massive lifecycle appetite for energy.
The Toyota Prius that Mr Styles mentions requires a third less petrol over its life, and produces one-third the greenhouse gas. That's progress. It's a popular myth that conserving old gas-guzzling habits is somehow more eco-friendly than stepping out into the low-carbon economy. Of the three main party leaders, only David Cameron and his bike seem to show any real will to lead by example.
Sir: I fully support all efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, but I'm tired of ill-informed suggestions. The singling out of 4WD cars in an example.
I achieve an average of 43mpg in my "gas-guzzling" Nissan X-Trail 4WD. I achieve this by driving carefully and in two-wheel-drive mode for 99 per cent of the time. When snow falls in the fairly remote and quite high area where I live, I can switch to 4WD and still get to work - there is no public transport alternative.
Many 2WD cars cannot achieve this economy. Let's have a more informed debate and concentrate on identifying cars (and driving styles) that use a lot of fuel and not follow the knee-jerk anti-4WD lobby.
Americans take UK view as the acid test
Sir: Adrian Hamilton's analysis of how we failed America by supporting the invasion of Iraq (7 April) was spot-on in every way. There is one further aspect to consider: many ordinary Americans use Britain's view of American policy, especially foreign policy, as an acid test. If Britain agrees with us, then we are probably OK; if Britain disagrees, then the President must be seriously wrong in some way.
If Britain had opposed the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration would have had an enormous problem taking the country with them. And, tantalisingly if it weren't so tragic, the invasion without British support would almost certainly have tipped the subsequent Presidential election the other way.
'Easy' crimes need proper punishment
Sir: Derek Murray's response to Johann Hari (Letters, 31 March) was depressingly familiar. Yes, if I walk home in a drunken state, or leave my car keys in the ignition, I am creating opportunities for criminals. But only a criminal would take advantage of such an opportunity.
If I'm careless with my possessions, I am not "asking for trouble" . On the contrary, I am asking for people to be more careful on my behalf. We so often hear the argument that the easier it is to commit a crime, the lighter the moral burden we should place on the criminal. Conviction rates in this country remain appallingly low, and at the heart of that is the belief that a victim is partly responsible for their own plight. But a criminal is a criminal, and should be punished accordingly.
NEW MALDEN, SURREY
A tin ear at the opera
Sir: Edward Seckerson's review of La Belle Hélène (7 April) suggests that Paris says to Calchas: "No, I'm quite homophobic, actually." Seckerson misheard. Paris said "Homer- phobic", which is perfectly appropriate and a good pun.
Do the maths
Sir: Navin Sullivan states that, as the US gallon is only four-fifths of the UK gallon, 100mpg in US gallons is only 80mpg in UK gallons (Letters, 7 April). Surely it is not rocket science to work out that as the UK gallon is bigger, you must be able to go further with one than you can with the (smaller) US gallon, so James Ruppert was correct with his original 130mpg figure for the Amberjac Prius car (4 April). I promise to get out more.
Better by phone
Sir: In reply to John S Jones (Letters, 7 April) concerning Barclaycard payments. I pay my Barclaycard from my Barclay's account via Businesscall and the payment goes straight through, so I can pay on the final day without penalty. If it can do that via the telephone, what is wrong with the internet system?
Enough of Blair/Brown
Sir: Can we please have some relief from the constant speculation on when Tony Blair will hand over to Gordon Brown? Even first-year political science students know that those who hold power never surrender it; power has to be wrested from them. Democracy does this in a peaceful way.
The superior sex
Sir: Proof that women are superior to men ("Life expectancy of women exceeds men's for the first time", 7 April) is provided by the fact that they are better drivers than men. Ask any insurance broker.
NORMAN T SHEPHERD
Dylan needs to chill
Sir: In "The 10 Commandments of Cool" (6 April), Dylan Jones seems to have forgotten the 11th commandment: "Thou shalt not try so hard."