Nimrod MP Poses Safety Questions

Westminster SNP Leader, Angus Robertson MP, whose Moray constituency is home to the Nimrod fleet at RAF Kinloss, has today (Monday) written to Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, to ensure that all questions about Nimrod safety are answered.

Twelve RAF personnel and two other servicemen were killed on 2 September 2006 when their Nimrod, call sign XV230, exploded shortly after mid-air refuelling.

Speaking about the Board of Inquiry and the unanswered questions Angus Robertson MP said:

"Everybody hopes that the inquiry will answer all of the relevant questions about the Nimrod which crashed in Afghanistan and help avoid a repeat of the tragedy.

"There are however, a host of unanswered questions about the safety of the ageing Nimrod fleet as a whole which the Ministry of Defence must answer.

"The MOD has to restore confidence in the wake of the tragedy and a series of safety incidents.

"I have sent Secretary of State Des Browne 15 key questions about Nimrod safety which must be answered if confidence is to be restored."

ENDS

Contact SNP Westminster Press: 0207 219 0074

The 15 questions to Secretary of State for Defence Des Browne are as follows:

1) A BAe report in 2004 on the Nimrod MR2 fleet recommended the fitting of fire extinguishers in the bomb bay. Why was none ever fitted by the RAF despite this recommendation? Was cost saving the priority?

2) The BAe report also recommended that the RAF keep a watching brief on fuel tank protection directives in the commercial aviation sector.  For the crew of XV230, a fuel tank protection system would have provided a second layer of defence from a fire on-board, potentially giving them the time to make an emergency landing. Why was this recommendation also apparently ignored - despite the fact that the RAF had already lost Hercules XV179 to a fuel tank explosion in January 2005?

3) The BAe report also highlighted the supply of hot air to the supplementary conditioning pack (SCP) as a cause for concern when it spoke of the risk of adjacent hot air pipes to fuel tanks as a source of ignition, following an incident in which this happened.  Why - when stopping the use of the SCP was a no-cost safety measure - did the RAF do nothing until they lost a crew? Now, apparently, the SCP on the MR2 is no longer used - suggesting the RAF only heeded BAe's recommendation when it was too late.

4) After the more recent emergency landing by a Nimrod MR2 last month, when fuel started spraying into the bomb bay during air to air refuelling, the RAF was unable to replicate the fault on the ground - meaning that it was unable to fix it. Why was the fleet not grounded at this stage?

5) Were such faults to be discovered on a civil airliner, e.g. a lack of fire extinguishers, the fleet would be grounded. Why is it deemed acceptable for military crews to run avoidable risks on top of the major risks they already agree to run by serving on operations in a war zone? Is operational tempo driving this, and should the MoD still be allowed to regulate itself in terms of RAF aircrafts' exemption from current civil aviation standards?

6) The ageing Nimrod MR2, now 37 years old, was due to leave service a decade ago - why is its replacement, the Nimrod MRA4, not coming into service until 2011 at the earliest - was this an example of inadequate procurement? And is it deemed safe to fly the current ageing fleet in demanding and difficult conditions for another four years or is this a decision being driven by the need to save money? 

7) Another maintenance report on the MR2 fleet, carried out by QinetiQ in March 2006, six months ahead of the loss of the XV230, highlighted the extent of fuel leaks on board the fleet - a known problem - and in particular on the six aircraft flying intensive schedules over Afghanistan and Iraq. The leaks, the document says, represented a "critical" structural problem - dating back at least ten years, along with problems with the seals and sealants on the pipework. The report said those leaks were made worse by air-to-air refuelling (AAR), something the Nimrod was not originally designed to do. Was this report ever acted on by the RAF and why was it deemed necessary to continue air to air refuelling, even though it was known to exacerbate the problem of fuel leaks?

(8) In Feb 2006, seven months before XV230 crashed in Afghanistan, the Government organisation QinetiQ were invited to Kinloss by the Nimrod IPT to carry out a survey of several aircraft and advise on the growing number of fuel leak problems in the Nimrod fleet. One of the aircraft involved in the survey was Nimrod XV230. In March 2006, QinetiQ produced a very detailed visit report which contained several recommendations. Can MoD advise as to which of these recommendations have been implemented, some 20 months after the report was issued? In particular the use of outdated servicing documents and tools, and the lack of shared data between civilian contractors at Kinloss with the IPT, MoD and BAE.
 
(9) Prior to going to the Gulf on 3rd August 2006, Nimrod XV230 underwent a new form of servicing, drawn up by the Nimrod IPT, known as equalised maintenance. The maintenance period lasted some eight weeks and was carried out by a civilian contractor at Kinloss. Prior to entering this planned maintenance programme the aircraft had just returned back from the Gulf and had nine reported fuel defects. After eight weeks on the ground the aircraft left the civilian contractor with seven of those defects unrectified. Can MoD advise why this was allowed to happen, considering that this was the first aircraft to undergo the new programme and should have been closely monitored by the IPT? Can MoD also confirm that the contract does call for a fully serviceable aircraft on completion of maintenance, or has this been missed from the contract?
 
(10) In August 2004, BAE Systems issued a Safety Case report covering fire/explosion hazards on Nimrod MR Mk2 and R Mk1 aircraft. The report recommended that the bomb bay fire suppression system fitted for extended range tankage role be utilised in normal operation. Failure to do so could result in an uncontrollable bomb bay fire to the point of leading to loss of an aircraft. This recommendation was rejected by MoD on the grounds that is was thought that such a system would be ineffective. Can MoD state whether this conclusion was arrived at following system trials, or was it simply arrived at through some form of paper exercise?
 
(11) The same report recommended that in the light of the TWA 800 in-flight fuel tank explosion, that fuel tank nitrogen inerting systems should be seriously considered for all new and in-service aircraft, to prevent the occurrence of an explosive vapour in a partially empty tank. Can MoD advise what steps have been taken that to accommodate this recommendation?
 
(12) It is understood that the Nimrod R Mk1 is to receive a new mission fit under "project Phoenix", this should extend its operational life to 2025. In view of the comments made in the QinetiQ report regarding possible corrosion in wing fuel tanks and the age of the aircraft, how does the MoD expect the Nimrod R airframe to last to 2025? The R and the MR are two different aircraft types, but the basic airframe/ fuel systems are the same.
 
(13) In a 2005 report into an incident involving a corroded super hot air pipe in the Supplementary Cooling Pack (SPC) of XV227 it was recommended that a survey was to be undertaken to determine what similar pipes (ducts) were in the same condition. It appears that it has taken two years to undertake such a survey on just two aircraft, and as yet no revised inspection programme has been initiated. At the time of XV230's accident the SPC was still being used, but was isolated on all Nimrod aircraft immediately afterwards. Can MoD advise as to who was responsible for making the decision to continue using the SPC after the XV227 accident, as clearly, from the actions taken later it was a high risk component?
 
(14) On the 5th Nov, this year, there was an fuel leak incident over Afghanistan involving XV235. Like many of the in-flight fuel leaks the incident happened after AAR, and AAR was suspended. In the past AAR has resumed after ground test and AAR procedures have been revised, clearly without getting to the real problem. Can MoD new procedures are now being considered by the IPT to get AAR operational, and how sure are they that they have got it right this time?
 
(15) AAR was introduced to the Nimrod during the Falklands dispute in order to get the aircraft from one theatre of operation to another, not to be used on a regular basis as it is being used today. Can MoD advise as to what changes were made to the Nimrod safety case for (a) using AAR for the Falklands, and (b) for today's regular use, overland?

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