§ Patrick Mercer
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects the Nimrod MRA4 to enter service; and what delays have been encountered with this project. 
§ Dr. Moonie
The current contract requirement for the first aircraft to be delivered into service is August 2004 and the In-Service Date requirement of seven aircraft is March 2005. The current contract dates result from the contract re-negotiation that took place in 223W 1999, following technical and programme difficulties encountered by BAE Systems in meeting the original contract placed in 1996.
More recently, BAE Systems have acknowledged a delay in the programme for the first flight of Nimrod MRA4. This delay has been caused by a combination of factors arising from the challenging concurrent engineering and parallel working on this highly complex aircraft. The consequences of first flight slippage are being urgently examined, jointly, by the Company and the Department. The results of this work so far indicate that first flight is unlikely before the second half of 2003 and we continue to examine the consequences this may have on ISD. Until this work is completed, it would be premature to speculate on the impact of this slippage on the timescale for the entry into service of Nimrod MRA4.