RAF airbuses to be used for holiday flights

By Andy McSmith
Wednesday 11 December 2013 06:19
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Inside the Ministry of Defence they are calling it "Biggles Airways". It is a new cost-cutting plan which could mean holiday makers taking charter flights in expensive airbuses designed for wartime use.

The 20 new airbuses, which would double up as mid-air refuelling tankers, are to be built under the Government's Private Finance Initiative, which was the source of a confrontation between Tony Blair and the unions last week.

Under the terms of the £12bn PFI deal, the consortium will build the new Airbus A330-200s to replace the ageing fleet of VC10s and Tri-Stars. It will own the airbuses and lease them to the RAF when they are required.

The MoD has said the RAF would only need all 20 for mid-air refuelling in times of war, so the PFI contractors can put them to other uses during peacetime.

Last week, as public sector unions tried to persuade Mr Blair to stop using PFI deals altogether, they pointed out the potentially comic side of this particular deal.

They raised the possibility that the RAF might be unable to carry out a bombing mission because its refuelling tankers were grounded in a holiday resort.

But a spokesman for the MoD implied that the problem was more likely to be that holiday makers could be stranded because their charter planes had been requisitioned by the RAF at short notice.

He said: "This is a project that has been in gestation for several years now.

"As in any proposed PFI deal, we are looking to buy the service. The RAF is looking to get the service it needs at the time it is needed.

"At times of conflict, we will need all 20 airbuses. At times when we don't need them, it will be open to the service provider to use the spare capacity for some other purposes, such as flights to Benidorm.''

He added: "But it will be clearly written into the contract that they will be available for the RAF when they are needed.''

John Edmonds, of the GMB general union, said: "If this contract means hundreds of new jobs, obviously that is something we welcome.

"But how is it going to look when Tony Blair has to tell President Bush that the RAF can't bomb Baghdad because it's stuck on a Club 18-30 mission to Benidorm?''

The main public sector unions oppose all PFI deals on the grounds that they are expensive, amount to privatisation of public services, and threaten the jobs of union members.

Last week, they inflicted three defeats on the Government in a single rowdy day at the Labour Party's annual conference at Blackpool.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Paul Boateng, was slow hand clapped by delegates as he tried to defend PFI deals.

Mr Blair insisted afterwards that PFI deals would continue, despite opposition from the unions.

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