Fears for Royal Navy pilots after report reveals delays in training military aviators

THE Ministry of Defence has come under fire for delays in training military pilots amid fears too many are being left sat behind desks and not in cockpits.

Wednesday, 4th September 2019, 1:00 am
Royal Air Force F-35B Lightning aircraft from 617 Sqn take off from Italian AF base Amendola near Foggia, Italy, as part of a sortie for EX Staccato Pursuit on the in July.

Government watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) has revealed the MoD has failed to meet its training requirements.

The spending monitor’s investigation found that in the six years to 2018/19 the MoD failed to meet its training needs by an average of 45 per cent, equating to a shortfall of 125 aircrew a year.

The probe came months after it was unveiled trainee pilots in the Royal Navy had been among those left stranded in administrative roles amid on-going delays in their phase two training.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Concerns have been raised over the training for naval aviators. Pictured: Commander Nathan Gray RN, makes the first ever F-35B Lightning II jet vertical landing onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018. Photo: LPhot Kyle Heller

A study in May revealed 350 trainees, comprising 110 signed up to fly helicopters for the army and navy, as well as 240 enlisted to fly fast jets for the RAF, had been grounded.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, chairman of the public accounts committee, said: ‘The military flying training saga continues with the MoD repeatedly failing to train the aircrew it needs.

‘Students have experienced long delays waiting to start their training with courses cancelled and delayed.

‘To address the long-standing failures of its military flying training, it is more critical than ever that the MoD's much delayed new programme works.’

The NAO investigation found training has taken longer in the last two years because the MoD does not have the capacity to handle the number of students it needs to instruct.

In July this year, there were 145 RAF students waiting an average of 90 weeks to start training, compared to an expected 12-week wait for around 26 students at a time, while 12 per cent of planned training courses as of March 2019 had been cancelled.

The NAO’s latest findings worried Vice Admiral Bob Cooling, the commander of Britain’s last aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious who feared the training of future naval aviators needed to fly the F-35B and Merlin Mk 4 helicopters –  which will defend Britain’s two new £3.1bn Queen Elizabeth-class carriers – could be hit.

He said: ‘I am not surprised to hear this has happened and it’s going to require a lot of patience from these young people are who mustard-keen and very talented and want to get into the air.

‘I can imagine this would be very frustrating. The problem is there is a bubble moving through the system. We have too many people chasing too few jets.

‘People have been recruited through a conveyor belt of training but the conveyor belt has sadly stopped.’

The NAO said for the training system to operate effectively, the MoD and private contractor Ascent must both meet their contractual obligations.

Responding the to findings, the MoD insisted it is in the process of introducing its new ‘military flying training system’ which would be the ‘biggest transformation’ of pilot training ‘in a generation’. it is being used to train all military pilots.

An MoD spokesman added: ‘Although we acknowledge there have been some challenges, the transition to the new system is now well underway and a steady improvement in aircrew throughput is being seen in all areas.’