HC Deb 28 July 1980 vol 989 c529W
Mr. George

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the future of the Buccaneer aircraft.

Mr. Pym

RAF Buccaneers will be resuming normal flying immediately. Following the crash of an RAF Buccaneer in Nevada on 7 February, cracks due to metal fatigue were found in the mainplane front spar of the crashed aircraft. As a precaution, all peacetime non-operational flying by RAF Buccaneers was suspended pending the outcome of technical investigations. It is now clearly established that the accident on 7 February was caused by the failure of the aircraft's starboard wing when subjected to loadings which in its fatigued state it was unable to withstand. The RAF board of inquiry is now being finalised and a summary will be published in due course.

To restore full confidence in the integrity of the Buccaneer airframe each aircraft was subjected to stringent inspection; two aircraft were totally dismantled; flight trials were undertaken to revalidate the fatigue test specimen; and a detailed repair scheme was devised. Experts from RAE Farnborough and the Accidents Investigation Branch have been closely involved in all this work.

Over half of the Buccaneer fleet was found to be either intact or with minor cracks which have now been repaired. I am now satisfied with the safety of these aircraft, and they will shortly resume unrestricted peacetime flying. The remaining aircraft, where more substantial cracks were found, can be recovered to front-line flying with more extensive repairs, and the economics of this are being considered. Hitherto, we have maintained our full Buccaneer declaration to NATO on the basis of availability in war. It is now clear that initially, and possibly also in the longer term, this declaration must be reduced. We shall be discussing with the NATO authorities the future size of the declared force.