HC Deb 17 June 2002 vol 387 cc7-8
5. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South)

If he will make a statement on the A340 Air Tanker. [58674]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)

The future strategic tanker aircraft is planned to replace our current air-to-air refuelling fleet. Two consortiums have submitted bids for this prospective private finance initiative project: AirTanker Ltd., which has proposed the use of Airbus A330 aircraft; and the Tanker Transport Service Company Ltd., which has proposed Boeing 767 aircraft.

I can also announce to the House that having considered the progress made with both consortiums in contract negotiations, it is clear that more time will be required to complete these complex discussions. As a result, we have decided to delay introduction of the PFI service from 2007 to 2008.

Mr. Chapman

My hon. Friend will understand that these are uncertain times for the aerospace industry. May I therefore express regret on behalf of my constituents who work at Broughton, however understandable the reasons for the delay in going ahead with the project? Will my hon. Friend tell me when he expects to make an announcement on preferred bidder status? Will he assure me that, when he examines the bids, he will consider value for money over the whole PFI period and not just the initial capital costs?

Dr. Moonie

We are committed to pursuing a PFI solution to the FSTA requirement as long as it provides the required operational capability at best value for money. The project is currently in a competitive assessment phase. This is one of the largest and most innovative PFIs currently being considered by my Department, and it is small wonder, given its complexity, that it is taking the companies bidding longer than we first expected to come forward with detailed proposals. I assure my hon. Friend, however, that we shall consider those very carefully, and that, whatever solution we arrive at to this requirement, we will ensure that it provides the best answer to our needs.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

May I point out to the Under-Secretary that new aircraft, in the form of the A330 200 series, would offer by far the best option, both industrially and technically, inasmuch as they would be new aeroplanes as opposed to refurbished old Boeing 767s? They are appropriate for the proven drogue system, with a drogue under each wing to refuel two aircraft at a time, and have a bigger fuel uplift, too. From every point of view, therefore, they would be the superior option.

Dr. Moonie

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. What we are concerned with, however, is arriving at the best solution overall. The requirement will be intended to fly for something like 27 or 28 years. It is therefore absolutely crucial that we get it right before we embark on what, as I have said, will be one of the most expensive projects in which we have been involved.

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