My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Reserves (Mr Julian Brazier) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
In April 2014 all Air Cadet Organisation gliding was paused due to airworthiness concerns with the Grob Viking conventional glider and Grob Vigilant motorglider fleets utilised by the Air Cadet Volunteer Gliding Squadrons (VGS).
Substantial operational, technical and commercial negotiations with a range of aerospace leaders in this field have failed to find a value for money approach to successfully repair and recover all 146 gliders. Consequently a comprehensive Air Cadet Organisation review has proposed restructuring this activity. It has been decided that the best value for money solution is to recover at least 73 Vikings, a reduced Vigilant fleet of up to 15 aircraft, combined with an uplift to Grob Tutor fixed wing Air Experience Flights (AEFs).
The reduced glider fleet will be operated by significantly fewer, but larger, VGS, which will have a regional focus and be better integrated with synthetic training and increased AEF locations. The number of Grob Tutor aircraft beyond 2017 for AEF/ University Air Squadron (UAS) use will go from 45 to 70 airframes, enabling the enlargement of existing AEFs and the formation of two new AEFs. Regional VGS hubs, which have the facility to provide overnight accommodation, will be also created across the UK.
The Volunteer Gliding Squadrons that are due to be disbanded are: 611 Squadron currently based at RAF Honington, 612 Squadron currently based Dalton Barracks (Abingdon), 613 Squadron currently based at RAF Halton, 616 Squadron currently based at RAF Henlow, 618 Squadron currently based at RAF Odiham, 624 Squadron currently based at RMB Chivenor, 633 Squadron currently based at RAF Cosford, 634 Squadron currently based at MOD St Athan, 635 Squadron currently based at RAF Topcliffe, 636 Squadron currently based at Swansea Airport, 642 Squadron currently based at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, 662 Squadron currently based at RMB Arbroath, 663 Squadron currently based at Kinloss Barracks and 664 Squadron currently based at Newtownards.
The Volunteer Gliding Squadrons that are due to be retained are the Central Gliding School and 644 Squadron currently based at RAF Syerston, 614 Squadron currently based at MDP Wethersfield, 615 Squadron currently based at RAF Kenley, 622 Squadron currently based at Trenchard Lines Upavon, 626 Squadron currently based at RNAS Predannack, 631 Squadron currently based at RAF Woodvale, 632 Squadron currently based at RAF Ternhill, 637 Squadron currently based at RAF Little Rissington, 661 Squadron currently based at RAF Kirknewton and 645 Squadron currently based at Topcliffe (from October 2019). 621 Squadron currently based at Hullavington will be retained at RNAS Merryfield.
As part of this process, a number of regional gliding hubs are to be created. We also expect that 2 new Air Experience Flights will be created, 13 AEF and 14 AEF. It is anticipated that 14 AEF will be located in Northern Ireland.
While work is undertaken to set up this new structure, the future locations of these Squadrons remains subject to the outcome of MOD estate rationalisation due to announce later this year. While it is likely that many Squadrons will remain at their current locations, we are working to ensure that, where this is not the case, flying opportunities will be made available to Cadet Units within their region and any new locations will be as geographically close to the existing locations as possible.
We recognise that this means that some uncertainty will remain for our cadets, but we are confident that this new structure will maximise flying opportunities for them.
As VGS are run by volunteer staffs, this will not result in any job losses, albeit volunteering options will be affected. The RAF is extremely grateful for the volunteers that support each VGS; without this support Air Cadet gliding would not be possible. Consequently we will develop a crossover plan which will enable many volunteer gliding instructors who become surplus on affected VGS to convert to Viking; transfer to a formally established ground cadre within a VGS; transfer their instructional skill sets into the units of the mainstream Air Cadet Organisation; or to retrain to fly the Grob Tutor in the expanded AEF construct.
The RAF remains committed to Air Cadet flying and will ultimately increase investment in the VGS and AEF sites which will remain to include the provision of residential accommodation for cadets and staff. This will enable those cadet units which have to travel greater distances to the VGS to undertake a residential weekend, with better associated force development and ground training opportunities alongside the gliding and flying. With the introduction of glider simulators, funded by the RAF Charitable Trust, the Air Cadet Organisation have developed a common syllabus for cadet flying which better integrates and allocates cadet flying opportunities between realistic synthetic flight simulation, glider flying and an uplift of AEF flights.
We will make a further statement when we can say more on basing.