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Mark Lancaster MP - his experience of the RAF


"By way of introduction, apart from my role as a member of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, I am also a serving member of the Territorial Army and it was in this latter role that I travelled through your station on the way back from Kabul on Tuesday 26th September after an eight week operational tour in Afghanistan.

Whilst I have served on several operational tours before, my motivation for volunteering for service during summer recess was to see first hand what our troops were gong through and whilst much of what I experienced was positive, I regret to say that the service provided by your station was not. If I may I would like to recite the experience, and whilst I appreciate the start and end of the journey are not your responsibility, the majority of it was. My overwhelming impression was one of a complete lack of service by the RAF and of what little was provided, was done so merely at the convenience of the RAF with little or no regard for passengers.

I am sure that there was good reason to have to arrive at Kabul airport at 05:15 for a 09:30 flight, but I would be delighted to know what it was. Having been given just 15 minutes for breakfast we were told we had to be back in the departure lounge by 07:30.

The flight finally took off shortly before 10:00 (D+30) and landed in Cyprus shortly after14:00 local. On landing we were told to take off all of our hand baggage due to a minor problem with a widow that was expected to be fixed during our two hour stay on the ground. (I subsequently discovered from a member of the crew that the fault with the window was discovered and reported in Kabul, but the crew were keen to get to Cyprus rather than stay in Kabul).

On entering the terminal, troops on the front patio were quickly told to come inside as they were not allowed to stand outside, no explanation was given. Shortly after entering a Flt Sgt announced that it would take two days to fix the Tri-Star and that a Titan Airways 737 had been held back to fly us home. We subsequently discovered that this plane 'that had been held back for us' was in fact not due to take off until 20.00 and was in fact scheduled to take home elements of 3 PARA post decompression.

The flight was scheduled to go first to Hanover but these passengers (almost 311 returning for R&R) were informed that the flight would no longer be going there and that their onward travel would be 'sorted out' when they arrived at Brize. Shortly after our arrival all RAF staff disappeared and no facilities were offered to troops to ring home to let families know of the delay.

At approximately 17:00 buses were lad on to take troops to dinner, being on the last bus that left a 17:20 I was told that I would only have 10 minutes to eat before having to travel back. Not it turns out due to meal times, hut apparently due to a shift change, the airmen escorting us were due to end their shift and keen to go home. I cannot begin to express the anger that this revelation caused with the many troops who had been on a six month 'shift' in Helmand. Having been forced to return to the terminal to meet your stations shift patterns all RAF staff once again disappeared.

20:00 came and went with no departure. Approximately 20:10 the duty mover (a Ft
Sgt) came into the terminal to announce that there was a problem – it turns out the weight of the passengers and bags were too great for the 737. He was rightly questioned as to why this hadn't been established 6 hours before when the Tri-Star first went U/S, he was unable to answer.

At approximately 20.30 the same Flt Sgt rushed in to announce that passengers had 30 secs to decide whether to travel tonight with no bags, or wait two days for the Tri-star to be fixed to travel with the bags. Understandingly passengers were not happy and when asked when and how they would pick up their bags he was unable to answer. Potentially passengers going to Germany on R&R would have to wait two days at Brize for their bags only then to be transported by road to Germany and so miss the first 3 days of their R&R.

It was suggested that since the flight would be travelling to Brize, the Germany passengers bags should be taken off allowing the remainder to travel to Brize with bags and the Germany passengers to travel the following day to Germany with the Tri-Star and avoid a road transfer. Whilst it was accepted that this was a good idea, we discovered that it was impossible because all of the bags which had been carefully segregated in Kabul had been mixed up when unloading the Tri-Star.

It was interesting that up until this point not a single RAF officer had been present in the terminal.

The Flt Sgt then apologised for suggesting that passengers travel without bags as it was clearly a mad idea given the uncertainty of when the bags would follow. Unfortunately for him 15 mins later a Flt Lt (the first officer to be seen) turned up and 'ordered' passengers to get on the plane without their bags.

I wish my departure from Cyprus was the end of this sorry saga, I regret it was not. Having arrived at Brize we were handed pre-printed cards (presumably this debacle is a regular occurrence) giving a number to ring to find out when the bags would arrive. Ringing the next day I was told first that the flight would now be arriving at Stansted and that my bags would be taken to Colchester. The second time I rang I was told that my weapon was at Brize but my bags were at Colchester. Finally at my third attempt, I discovered that my bags had arrived at Brize only a few hours after me, obviously the Tri-Star damage was not a serious as was first thought.

Overall it was an appalling experience that gave the impression of a station being run entirely for the convenience of the RAF (and particularly the 'shift' system) with scant if any concern for returning troops from theatre. You will be aware that the Defence Select Committee are due to travel to Cyprus as part of an investigation into the support that the Garrison provides to Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and after my experience I intend to focus on the role played by the RAF.

In the meantime I would gratefu1 if you could provide answers to the following questions. If you feel unable to do so I intend to table Parliamentary questions on the 18th Oct so answers can supplied prior to the Committees visit at the end of the month..."

Yours ever

Mark Lancaster


The Questions:


Why it is required to arrive at Kabul 4 hours before departure?
When exactly was the broken window was reported?
Why if the broken window was reported in Kabul, was it was possible to fly to Cyprus? And if so why then not on to Hanover and Brize Norton?
Why if the window was reported on take off did the flight not return to Kabul?
Why passengers are prevented from going onto the patio at the front of the terminal?
What are the shift timings for the station?
‘What are the working hours for the station?
Why were the segregated bags mixed up when unloading the Tn-Star?
Why no officer was present at the terminal until 20:20?
Why no facilities were offered to passengers to ring home to inform of the delay?
What arrangements were made for the onward passage of Germany Passengers?
How many days R&R were lost for Germany passengers?
Why the weight limitations of the 737 were not checked once it became apparent that the Tn-Star was U/S?
When was the Tn-Star fixed and when did it arrive at BZN?"


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