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Heavy-lift Helicopters

Volume 567: debated on Monday 2 September 2013

Over the next 10 years, the Ministry of Defence will spend over £12 billion to ensure our helicopter capability remains up to date. The Chinook remains our heavy-lift helicopter. We currently have a fleet of 46 aircraft—the second largest fleet in the world—with 14 new aircraft coming into service from 2014, bringing the total to 60. We regularly review the requirement for all of our helicopter capability.

I thank the Minister for that answer. What steps have been taken to develop a naval capability for the Chinook helicopter?

Chinooks, along with other helicopters, already regularly operate from royal naval vessels. Some specific training is needed to qualify crews to enable them to operate from ships, but no specific engineering work is required for Chinooks to embark on or fly from ships, so no marinisation programme is needed. But as Chinooks cannot fit in the hangar on any of our existing vessels, they embark for specific operations or exercises rather than for long deployments.

The Government of Yemen have specifically requested support, as far as air power is concerned, in order to defeat al-Qaeda. As the Minister knows, there was an attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister of Yemen over the weekend. What support can be given to Yemen, as far as heavy-lift helicopters are concerned?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, helicopter support into the Gulf is not easy to do from the UK—or even from our sovereign bases in Cyprus. In direct response to his question about helicopters, I am afraid that I cannot enlighten him.

I want to ask the Secretary of State why there has been no response whatsoever to my letters to him and his Ministers dated January, February, April, June and July 2013, or to my letters to the head of the Military Aviation Authority, dated January, February, April and June, about a number of serious concerns raised by my constituent, Christopher Jackson, relating to the safety of the Sea King helicopter fleet and the conduct of a number of individuals involved in ensuring the safety of the fleet, which I understand is now the subject of a police investigation. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State investigated what has happened, and may I receive responses by return?

I am obviously not able to speak for the head of the Military Aviation Authority, which has its own organisation within the MOD, but I would be happy to look into the matter. I have not heard from the hon. Lady directly myself; I will take that on board and write back to her.