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Nimrod Update

Volume 480: debated on Friday 17 October 2008

The House will recall the circumstances surrounding the loss of Nimrod XV230 in September 2006 which led to the tragic death of 14 service personnel. The subsequent Board of Inquiry recommended that the ageing aircraft audit be reviewed to include aircraft systems. In order to ensure that we found the most robust way possible of meeting this recommendation and tightening up our safety and maintenance procedures we decided to conduct a forensic-level teardown of a Nimrod aircraft. This approach is extremely rigorous, and the first time that we have conducted this sort of exercise.

We wanted to gain the most information possible from this process. Therefore we selected XV236 because it was due to go into its five-yearly major maintenance refit and it is one of most heavily used aircraft on operations in our fleet. The work, which is being conducted by QinetiQ, began in August.

QinetiQ has provided an initial report which sets out the result of an extensive visual inspection, conducted as a precursor to the teardown work itself. This inspection has revealed a number of faults and husbandry issues, which had not been recorded in the aircraft’s maintenance documentation. There were examples of corrosion, scratches in the aircraft structure, and some damage and deterioration. Apart from the aircraft structure scratching and a cable anchoring issue, both of which were investigated across the fleet to ensure that other aircraft were not similarly affected, the issues were individually minor in nature.

We immediately commissioned a separate thorough investigation in response to the teardown report to assess whether the individual and cumulative impact of these issues had any serious airworthiness implications. They did not, and it was concluded that the Nimrod remains safe to fly. This investigation was carried out in conjunction with QinetiQ and BAE Systems with each issue identified in the QinetiQ report being analysed, explained and remedial action identified where required. This has formed the basis for a companion report that places the initial QinetiQ report into its proper context.

We have also initiated an inspection of the Nimrod fleet to ensure that maintenance procedures are being rigorously applied. It is well underway and will be completed by the end of October.

Copies of both reports are today being placed in the Library of the House and the MOD website. The material is also being passed to Mr Haddon-Cave QC for inclusion in his review.

The teardown work will generate quarterly reports, setting out the findings and conclusions reached. We propose to adopt a similar approach to each of these reports and to make them available in the same way. In the meantime QinetiQ staff, the MOD’s integrated project team, and the design authority, BAE Systems, remain closely engaged to ensure that any issues that might require immediate attention or investigation are known and understood. If at any point QinetiQ identify a serious airworthiness issue during the teardown they have been asked to raise it immediately with the MOD, in order that we can take swift action.