LONDON - Britain said on Wednesday it would set up a new military air safety body after a probe into a Royal Air Force plane crash in Afghanistan that killed 14 people found serious faults in safety procedures.
Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth also said the government was reviewing contract conditions it put on the defense industry as a result of the probe which criticized defense firms BAE Systems and QinetiQ.
The creation of the new Military Aviation Authority, announced by Ainsworth, was in line with one of the main recommendations of a report into the crash of the Nimrod MR2 reconnaissance plane in 2006.
The report by aviation lawyer Charles Haddon-Cave, published in October, found that the Ministry of Defence's current airworthiness system was not fit for purpose.
The report embarrassed Prime Minister Gordon Brown by saying government cost cuts had played a major role in the crash.
Brown, who faces an uphill battle to win an election due by next June, has been accused of failing to provide British forces in Afghanistan with equipment they need, but also faces pressure to curb defense spending to rein in a gaping budget deficit.
The Nimrod caught fire and exploded minutes after mid-air refueling, killing all 14 military personnel on board in the worst single incident for British forces since the 1982 Falklands war.
The government said on Tuesday that the Nimrod MR2 would be withdrawn from service early as a cost-cutting measure.
The new Military Aviation Authority, to be led by a senior officer supported by a staff of 250, will regulate all military aviation and will start work in April next year, Ainsworth said.
Ainsworth did not say how much the new authority would cost but said it would bring together existing resources.
Haddon-Cave's report said a safety review led by the Nimrod's manufacturer, BAE Systems, failed to assess fatal hazards properly. The review was riddled with errors of fact, analysis and risk categorization, it said.
The report also described independent adviser QinetiQ as lax for failing to read BAE Systems' reports or check their work properly.
Ainsworth said the ministry had been working with BAE Systems and QinetiQ to address the failings identified in the report. BAE Systems was reviewing its approach to product safety and QinetiQ was also reviewing its procedures, he said.
Royal Air Force police are investigating two serving officers named in the Haddon-Cave report, Ainsworth said.
The report criticized Air Commodore George Baber and Wing Commander Michael Eagles over their role in a safety review of the Nimrod before the crash.
(Editing by Charles Dick)