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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 March, 2004, 17:24 GMT
Q & A Dara job losses
More than 500 job losses have been announced at RAF St Athan in south Wales. It has been called a "serious blow" to the area's economy. BBC News Online unravels exactly why.

The Dara aircraft maintenance works at RAF St Athan, south Wales
Dara's aircraft repair works at RAF St Athan is the biggest in the UK
What is Dara?

Dara is the Defence Aviation Repair Agency. It is a civilian arm of the Ministry of Defence and was set up to cut the costs of maintaining and repairing the UK's military aircraft.

It has four sites in the UK, employing a total of 3,800 highly-skilled aviation engineers. RAF St Athan is the main base and accounts for more than half of Dara's employees.

The other sites are at RAF Sealand in north Wales, Almondbank near Perth in Scotland and Fleetlands near Portsmouth.

Why is Dara losing 550 jobs?

There are two reasons. The first is that 360 posts are going as part of streamlining to make the agency more efficient and better able to compete with the private sector for lucrative aircraft repair contracts.

To a certain extent, these job losses had been foreseen in the run-up to the creation of Project Red Dragon at RAF St Athan. (see below).

The second - and some would say a far more significant reason - is that Dara has lost out to the RAF for the contract, worth 150m, to upgrade the airforce's fleet of ageing Harrier jump jets.

Why does this matter?

Trade unions at the site and Vale of Glamorgan MP John Smith say they fear it signals that the RAF is gaining the upper hand in what is, in effect, a turf war.

RAF Tornado F3 Fighter
The battle Dara must win is for the Tornado maintenance contract

John Smith says that, while the RAF has world-class aviation engineers, the airforce is not geared up to compete in a cost-effect manner with routine servicing and upgrades.

The argument is that the RAF is best at front-line or battlefield maintenance and repairs, but long-term and well-planned work, called garage maintenance, can be done more cheaply at Dara, freeing up uniformed RAF staff.

What has upset the unions and John Smith is that they say the RAF can always claim that it should conduct such work for "operational reasons".

But will one contract make that much difference?

Not in itself, no. The future of Dara is not threatened by not gaining this contract. Dara describes the process as "swings and roundabouts" as its expects to lose some deals as well as gain others.

The key fear from the jobs cut announcement is about the next contract, to conduct extensive maintenance of the RAF's fleet of Tornado fighter jets. This is an even bigger deal than the Harrier upgrade contract and a lot more jobs at St Athan are at stake.

The Dara aircraft maintenance works at RAF St Athan, south Wales
Unions fear Project Red Dragon will be undermined by the job cuts

The RAF has to keep its Tornados flying until the new Eurofighter, the Typhoon, enters service later in the decade. There is a general expectation that St Athan will keep the work - but nothing is certain. The investment appraisals are underway and a decision is expected in the next few months.

What is Project Red Dragon?

Project Red Dragon is the Welsh Development Agency's (WDA) plan to create a world-class aviation centre at RAF St Athan. The idea is to bring all of Dara's expertise under one giant roof and use it to encourage small, hi-tech aviation-based firms to set up alongside in a planned business park. It is hoped this would create up to 5,000 jobs over 10 years.

One of the problems with St Athan is that its buildings and workshops are spread across the base's 1,000 acres. It was designed this way to make life difficult for Hitler's Luftwaffe but, in the 21st Century, it does not make good business sense.

Project Red Dragon will pull everything into just 100 acres.

So what is the problem?

Unions are warning that Dara - the bedrock on which Project Red Dragon is to be founded - faces "death by a thousands cuts" if the UK Government continues to keep the RAF's maintenance work in-house.

They worry that if Dara loses this contract, it might lead to the lose of others, such as that for the Tornado work. Then the job losses will begin to mount, undermining the whole point of building the superhangar.




SEE ALSO:
550 defence aviation jobs lost
24 Mar 04  |  Wales


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