Thursday, 3 January 2013

Ronald Ashford CBE 1932-2008

Ronald Ashford was born in Wokingham, Berkshire, in 1932 and attended St Edward’s School, Oxford, from where he went to the De Havilland Aeronautical Technical School in 1949. As he served his apprenticeship, Ashford took flying lessons. Possession of a private pilot’s licence was professionally useful but flying was, for Ashford, also a leisure pursuit. He was an active private pilot from 1950 until 1997.
Ashford joined De Havilland in 1953. For his National Service he took an RAF short-service commission, returning to Hatfield in 1958. Over the next ten years he flew alongside test pilots with De Havilland and then with Hawker Siddeley when the two companies merged in 1959. Besides the Comet, he worked on test flights for the Trident and the DH125 corporate jet. He also worked on the Royal Navy’s DH110 Sea Vixen, an earlier model of which had crashed at the 1952 Farnborough air show, killing both crew and 29 spectators.
By the mid 1960s, Hatfield began to lose its lustre as an aerospace development centre. Ashford moved in 1968 to the Air Registration Board, the organisation responsible for setting and overseeing technical safety standards for British aircraft. He saw it rolled into the Civil Aviation Authority in 1972, becoming director general of the airworthiness division in 1983, and head of the operational safety division in 1987.
Ashford was involved in the investigation into the Manchester air disaster of 1985, in which 54 people died when a British Airtours Boeing 737 caught fire. Many of the deaths were caused by smoke inhalation and the accident prompted calls for aircraft to carry protective fire hoods for passengers. Ashford commissioned research into that idea and into cabin sprinkler systems together with the improvement of access to passenger exits. After research and testing it was concluded that the difficulties created by smoke hoods and sprinklers outweighed their potential benefits. However, much improvement in the access to and usability of exits was achieved and is now required as a standard.
At the ARB and the CAA Ashford worked with Concorde teams in the radical rethinking of standards that hitherto had applied to subsonic airliners. From the Anglo-French project there emerged close co-operation between European airworthiness authorities, eventually leqading to the Joint Aviation Authorities, based near Amsterdam. Ashford was the senior CAA member with the JAA from 1989, and on leaving the CAA in 1992 he was its secretary general, a full time office, until 1994.