HC Deb 13 December 1999 vol 341 cc11-2
9. Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

What steps his Department has taken to check the wiring of military aircraft following recent crashes; and how many military aircraft have been rewired as a result. [100961]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar)

As a result of damaged, mishandled or misrouted wires, instances of electrical fires caused two Harrier aircraft accidents in 1991. As a result of those accidents, remedial action was taken and there is no evidence that any recent crashes were caused by problems with electrical wiring. The safety of electrical wiring in UK military aircraft is reviewed continuously. Wiring is inspected whenever maintenance activity takes place on an aircraft. We work closely with the British Standards Institution to ensure that aircraft wiring meets the highest standards of safety and installation.

Mrs. Dunwoody

That all sounds very comforting, and I am happy to hear it, but my hon. Friend will be aware that the length of life of some of the aircraft in the list that he was kind enough to give me is way beyond what was originally envisaged for them by the builders. There is a real worry that wiring faults, in military and civil aircraft, may be a contributory cause of major crashes and it is difficult to inspect all the systems when looking at the wiring of an aircraft during maintenance. Will my hon. Friend please give me a guarantee that—despite his confidence in the efficiency of aircraft—he will look carefully in the immediate future at the type of wiring used and at any dangers that may arise from that?

Mr. Spellar

It is not unusual for military aircraft—so long as there is sufficient assurance about their safety—to run over the life that was originally predicted by either the purchasers or the manufacturers. A number of aircraft are updated with newer equipment, but the basic frame may stay the same. When we undertake routine wiring maintenance, wiring is often replaced and newer materials introduced, but there is also stringent and rigorous inspection and attention is paid to possible mechanical treatment of wiring. Often, the combination of the chemical qualities of the insulation and the mechanical treatment causes arcing and fires. As I said in my original answer, we have not had any evidence of that problem since 1991, but our engineering departments are alert to keeping a look out for it.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

What study has the Minister made himself of Kapton wiring and what conclusion has he reached?

Mr. Spellar

I am Spellar, PPE Oxford not MSc Eng.Chem. The hon. Gentleman points to the reasons why we have such extremely fine service engineers, on both the fitting and the technical and engineering side, who give us excellent advice. That is borne out by the fact that no fires have caused crashes since 1991, and I am rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman should cast such a slur on the excellent technical personnel in the Royal Air Force.

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