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Iraq: Basra Airport

Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 24 July 2007

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Ministry of Defence, through Multi-National Division-South East (MND-SE) personnel, has supported the Iraqi authorities since 2004 in the commercialisation of Basra international airport. Our support to commercial operations at the airport remains vital. The airport is an important element of the infrastructure of southern Iraq and is playing a key part in the economic regeneration of the country and the Basra region in particular.

The nature of our support has been through the provision of the following services:

air traffic control;

communication system support; and

fire and crash rescue.

Our potential contingent liability for this support was first notified to Parliament through a departmental minute dated 2 December 2004. Since then, we have been able to make progress in preparing the Iraqis to take on full responsibility for commercial flight operations. From January this year the Iraqis took responsibility for fire and crash rescue services, and the airport will soon benefit from the new airfield lighting and communication systems that will enable 24-hour commercial flight movements.

MND-SE personnel have, however, recently reassumed air traffic control responsibility for commercial flight services. This, theoretically, increases the Ministry of Defence's exposure to the risk of a third-party claim in the unlikely event of an aviation accident and, thereby, our potential contingent liability. We are confident, however, that the probability of this liability arising is very low given that the use of professional RAF controllers will substantially reduce the likelihood of an incident occurring.

The potential contingent liability is unquantifiable and would be dependent on circumstances. The Ministry of Defence now holds responsibility for this liability. The Treasury will continue to consider any claim against the reserve, made by the department in the usual manner.