BAe project 'a shambles'

Aerospace giant accused of wasting taxpayers' money on ill-managed research work
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The Independent Online
THE DISPUTE over a pivotal pounds 45m research project that blew up at British Aerospace's annual meeting last week received new impetus on Friday, when the former BAe manager raising the alarm spelled out his reservations in detail.

Roger Redman, 52, a former project leader on BAe's composite wing research programme (CWP), described the programme as a "shambles" and charged that it was not only a waste of company money, but also a waste of taxpayers' money and a potential threat to air safety. "The programme is, frankly, a shambles," said Mr Redman, who left the company after a dispute about it late last year.

The object of the programme is to develop a revolutionary all carbon- fibre wing for the Airbus family of aircraft. If the programme fails, it could hinder Britain's bid to supply the next generation of wings for the Airbus passenger aircraft.

Mr Redman, 52, a project leader on the composite wing programme, left BAe's Filton site. He accepted a redundancy package from BAe because he could see that his career at the company, where he had spent 33 years, was at an end. He went public with his criticisms at BAe's annual general meeting at London's Queen Elizabeth II conference hall.

In an interview with the Independent on Sunday, he detailed his reservations over the direction of the programme. His concerns centred on what he called the failure of BAe management to set a clear shape or goal for the project. He provided documentation showing that other BAe staff were worried as well.

A memo from Glyn Rogers, chief airframe engineer at BAe's military aircraft division (MAD), to Paul Chivers, the CWP manager, said: "At a number of CWP meetings I have recorded my concern about the [research] programme ... and I draw on similar comments made in writing to myself from other involved MAD staff."

Outside consultants are also concerned. Mike James-Moore of the University of Warwick said the project was not "holistic. It is fragmented, and it is difficult to understand an individual company's role. The various work packages are not properly linked".

Mr Redman said disarray on the project was not only frittering away the money of BAe shareholders and taxpayers supporting it indirectly through government research grants, but that the eventual outcome could be compromised. The former BAe manager explained that even if safety concerns were meticulously addressed, an imperfect design could result in high maintenance costs.

The race to develop a carbon-fibre composite wing will be crucial to Airbus. US rival Boeing is working on composite wing technology in Seattle. Composite wings have already been developed for military aircraft and there is one light turboprop design in commercial use.

Composite wings cost far less to make than metal wings. Being much lighter, they substantially reduce running costs through lower fuel consumption.

Frank Matthews, a director of the Composite Materials Centre at Imperial College, London, is sure that an all-composite wing will emerge. "Someone's going to do it, if not Airbus, then Boeing. It's a natural extension of existing technology to passenger aircraft. We're not talking about a complete leap in the dark."

A spokesman for BAe said the company was confident that the composite wing research programme would be successfully completed. He added that the company would not comment on "individual cases".

However, he said that the new chief executive, John Weston, had said he would re-examine Mr Redman's concerns. He added that the company always tried to maximise the benefits to its technology from research grants. He said safety was "paramount, and we are very heavily governed by regulatory and certification procedures".

Mr Redman has urged the board of British Aerospace to conduct an independent external review of the project. He also wants the company to retract a formal verbal warning it made against him.