The Elephant in the room and the case for independence

All members of MoD are obliged under their terms of employment to report airworthiness failings to their line management. This raises two obvious questions:

  1. Would you want anyone who failed in that duty working in the Military Aviation Authorty (MAA)?
  2. Conversely, would you want anyone working in the MAA who is not experienced or knowledgeable enough to recognise such failings?

Now, a key fact. MoD has stated, in reply to a Freedom of Information request, that only one member of staff (myself) believes the mandated airworthiness and financial probity regulations should be implemented. This was provided under cover of a letter DPA/DPRD/SAR 95 dated 23 April 2003, enclosing a briefing to the then Permanent Under Secretary of State (Ministerial Correspondence – Reference 2214/2003).

Defence Equipment & Support at Abbey Wood, Bristol consistently stands by this briefing, and in 2014 the Head of the Civil Service concurred.

I have never worked in the MAA. It was formed six years after I retired. It follows, according to MoD and PUS, no member of the MAA has exercised their duty of care and legal obligation to report systemic failings.

So, why were MAA staff posted there, given their failure to meet legal obligations and/or lack of suitable experience and competence? By MoD's own admission it MUST be one or the other. The answer lies in the Ministerial rulings outlined below.

The Elephant

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Andrew Robathan MP, now Lord) and the Head of the Civil Service (Sir Robert Kerslake) confirmed it is a disciplinary offence to refuse to obey a direct order to make a false declaration about financial probity and airworthiness. To make such a false declaration is to commit fraud. In making these rulings, Minister upheld the same ruling made by his six immediate predecessors. In 2014 his successor, Sir Jeremy Heywood, followed suit.

In the same letters, these officials ruled it is NOT an offence to instruct staff to commit this fraud. This is entirely consistent with the actions of Director General Support Management (RAF) Air Vice Marshal Chris Baker in December 1992 and the Chief of Defence Procurement Sir Robert Walmsley in 2001. The former threatened dismissal, the latter 'merely' upheld formal warnings.

Letter References:

a. DES TO 03202-2012, 28 November 2012 in reply to letter to Min(AF)

b. DES Sec/03/05, 8 January 2013 in reply to letter to Min(AF)

c. Unreferenced letter dated 8 January 2013 signed by Sir Robert Kerslake

d. DE&S 04-06-13-145804-002, 1 July 2013 signed by Mark Bailey, DE&S Secretariat

This last response contained the briefings to Minster and the Head of the Civil Service which prompted a., b. and c. The briefings further claimed there was no link between the systemic failures reported by Haddon-Cave and the failures reported to him, despite them being precisely the same.

Furthermore, it named two senior officers, one in the MAA, the other the Director responsible for Rotary Wing aircraft, as having contributed to the briefings.

Clearly, then, the MAA is complicit in protecting those responsible for the failings. It is seen to support the continued denigration of the staff who met their legal obligation and reported the failings. This is precisely the cultural behaviour that led to the failings in the first place, so one is entitled to ask:

  • Is the MAA fit for purpose?
  • Is MoD fit to manage the airworthiness of its own fleets?

The answer is clearly no. The MAA is too closely linked with those responsible for, and those who continue to condone, the very failings it is charged with correcting. MoD has a much wider cultural problem, which militates against financial prudence and probity, as well as the safety of its staff.

The only viable solution is to make the MAA truly independent of the MoD. What constitutes 'independence'? MoD defines it, in the context of Safety Criticality/airworthiness, as: 'Being commercially and managerially independent, both to preserve objectivity and to minimise pressure for premature acceptance'.

The MAA, staffed mainly by serving RAF officers, cannot be said to be commercially and managerially independent if its staff are reliant upon others in MoD for both funding and personal advancement.

The wider MoD is more problematical, but it is believed that independent control of airworthiness would be an excellent vehicle for instilling a more acceptable (and legal) culture across MoD. But in the first instance it is important the MAA does not have to go cap in hand to the MoD for adequate funding, or beg Project Teams to implement mandated regulations, when senior staff regard both as optional.

The MAA’s response to this is disingenuous. It rejects the notion because the MAA itself does not require funding, for example, to let a contract to maintain a Tornado Safety Case. The Project Team needs the funding. However, this pedantry reveals major failings. The MAA’s default position is the same as MoD’s; to blindly argue against anyone seeking to implement the regulations. Also, the entire raison d’etre of the MAA (in this context) is to act as 'champion' for Project Teams, so that each does not have to waste resources making their own case for funding, where one is at the mercy of how experienced the submission writer is. The MAA should be making a single case, at a higher level, independent of the normal funding chain. In other words, in this single response the MAA reveals its hand - it is not independent; in fact, it is part of the system that remains riddled with Organisational Faults and Systemic Failures.