Crashed RAF jet damaged by repairs

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The Independent Online
The RAF jet which crashed last month into the sea within yards of holidaymakers on Blackpool beach had just been repaired after suffering damage under a controversial Ministry of Defence programme of contracting out maintenance work.

The pounds 25m jet was on its first flight after a second refit by British Aerospace to repair the original work which damaged 16 of the planes at an estimated cost of pounds 100m. The original work was carried out by a Dorset firm, Airwork Service, which has subsequently been taken over by Short Brothers and was suspended in 1993 after a technician discovered that the planes had been severely damaged during the repair.

The RAF Board of Inquiry is investigating the cause of the crash 10 days ago and the MoD yesterday stressed that there has been no suggestion so far that it was connected to the previous problems.

Serious damage was caused by Airwork to the airframe and fuselage of the 16 Tornados including fastening holes that had been wrongly drilled or distorted, surfaces damaged and measures to repair cracks not taken.

RAF inspectors later concluded that the damage was so severe that the entire middle section of the planes had to be replaced.

A report by the Commons Defence Committee last November was highly critical of the MoD for its failure to spot the mistakes until most of the Airwork programme had been carried out. The MPs were also astonished that some of Airwork's bill had been paid before the quality of the work had been checked. An MoD spokesman last night that legal action by the ministry was still being pursued against Airwork's then parent company, Bricom, which is itself owned by a Swedish firm. Ironically, Airwork had originally won the contract by undercutting BAe which is now repairing the damage.

The MPs also questioned the MoD's policy of contracting out services and the way it was being carried out. The committee also found that while the MoD claimed pounds 157m savings, the real figure was pounds 57m

The refit programme by BAe is halfway through and eight of the jets are now back in service.

The Tornado crash, in which the two-man crew ejected safely, was the latest in a series of accidents that have increased concerns about the aircraft's safety. It was the fifth Tornado fighter to be lost this year.

Two were destroyed in a mid-air collision at 14,000ft, minutes after taking off from their base at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire, in January, another crashed the following day and a fourth crashed in Germany in February.