The UK government has announced that all overseas Nimrod surveillance aircraft will be grounded until the summer owing to safety reasons.
Concerns were raised about the fleet following the death of 14 personnel when a Nimrod XC230 exploded in mid-air in 2006. Following the incident, an inquiry recommended that all fuel seals and engine bay hot-air ducts should be replaced on Nimrod aircraft.
These upgrades were scheduled for completion by 31 March. However, as a result of problems with the provision of replacement parts, the modifications programme has now been delayed beyond this date.
Bob Ainsworth, minister for the armed forces, said: ‘Our technical experts have advised that, in order that the risks involved in operating the aircraft remain tolerable and as low as reasonably practicable, no Nimrods should fly after 31 March 2009 unless their hot-air ducts have been replaced.’
The Royal Air Force (RAF) operates Nimrod aircraft in Afghanistan, Iraq and the UK. According to Ainsworth, other aircraft will be used to maintain surveillance capabilities and there will be no impact on security.
Commenting on the announcement, Nick Harvey, Liberal Democrat defence secretary, said that the grounding was, ‘in effect, an admission by the government that the Nimrod fleet is not safe to fly and has not been for years’.
The Nimrod MR2 is due to be replaced by the MRA4 model, which will be supplied by BAE Systems as part of a wider deal on the Nimrod fleet. A spokesperson for BAE Systems said that it would be ‘inappropriate to comment’ on the government’s decision.