Forces' flying lessons to be privatised

BRITAIN is about to to take a huge step towards privatising the armed forces with a pounds 300m contract to train all three services' helicopter crews. It is the Ministry of Defence's biggest-ever contract other than those for the procurement of weapons, equipment or building works. It is also an important step towards unifying the way the three services operate.

The contract, which will run for 10 years, will provide the Army, the Navy and the RAF with 32,000 hours of basic helicopter training per year. Students will be entrusted to a private contractor for nine months to qualify as helicopter pilots, navigators and aircrew. The contractor will run all aspects of the training school, including providing food and accommodation. It is therefore known as a "multi-activity contract", or, as MoD officials, aware of its scale as well as its responsibility for sustenance have dubbed it, "the Big Mac".

The Defence Helicopter Flight School will be based at RAF Shawbury, near Shrewsbury, where the RAF currently trains its helicopter pilots. The students, including pilots who will already have learned to fly light aeroplanes, will do 60 hours' training on the single-engined helicopters.

Then those destined for the RAF's bigger helicopters will graduate to the multi-engined aircraft. The Navy pilots, who have to land on ships in gales, will do more advanced training in the single-engined variety, and the Army crews, who may end up flying Apache attack helicopters, will leave to get their final training on Army helicopters at the Army Air Corps centre at Middle Wallop.

To provide the 32,000 hours of flying time needed each year, the contractor will need 40 single-engined and 11 multi-engined helicopters. Tomorrow, evaluation teams from the three services will begin a "fly-off" between several helicopters which are candidates to check they are suitable. But the final choice will be made by the contractors. In order to keep costs and overheads down, it will be in their interest to select the most proven, reliable and "student-friendly" helicopter. Instead of training on military helicopters, as now, the crews will learn the essentials of helicopter flying on aircraft which are widely used as flying ambulances or to photograph traffic jams.

The MoD expects to choose from three potential contractors in May. It is understood to be keen to make all its major decisions on time, in case of an early General Election. The privatised school is due to be up and running by April 1997. By that time, the contractor must have all 52 helicopters in service and have trained the instructors on them. Some instructors will be civilians employed by the company; some will be service personnel, seconded to the school.

Privatising the armed forces is not a new idea. Until the Indian Mutiny the defence of India was in the care of a Crown Monopoly - the East India Company, which ran its own army and was considered to have better armed and appointed ships than the Navy. And in the Crimean War, at the high water mark of Victorian capitalism, a private contractor offered to tender for the siege of Sevastopol, undertaking to capture the Crimean port by a certain time or face penalty charges.

But it is only in the past few years that privatisation has reappeared. Private firms already contract to run services for the MoD at all three service helicopter training schools - Culdrose for the Navy, Middle Wallop for the Army and Shawbury for the RAF. "Big Mac" will expand the scope of privatisation and bring them all together.

Acquiring the helicopters, however, is only a one component of the costs. The contractor will also have to keep them flying and run the establishment, although there will be a service officer - the Navy, Army and Air Force will take turns - in nominal charge.

There are three potential contractors: FR Bristow Serco, an alliance of the firms who already help train Army and Air Force pilots, Bond and Hunting, and Shorts.

The aircraft which the successful contractor might use include Bell helicopters, built in Canada, McDonnell Douglas helicopters built in the US, and European consortium "Eurocopters", plus the Italian Agusta. The aim is to teach aircrews of the future "basic flying" - much as driving schools use basic cars to teach driving. Once qualified, after their 60 hours, the crews will progress to more advanced training and then to the helicopters they will probably fly in active service: Navy and Air Force EH 101s and Army Air Corps Apaches.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'