Daily Express Headline "RAF blows £50m on flying lessons with zero students as school refuses to refund cash"

It would be interesting to see some informed response here to this media coverage (nb I’ve not tried looking at Prune or The Goat yet in respect of the claims)


Daily Express
RAF blows £50m on flying lessons with zero students as school refuses to refund cash
Story by Christopher Sharp • Wednesday 17 May 2023

A private flying school is refusing to refund £50million spent by the RAF on flying lessons which never took place. Ascent was paid the vast sum for 86 courses which never took place as part of a £2.5billion pound deal to privatise training.

Following the shocking revelation, former Armed Forces minister Mark Francois described the contract as a “basket case” and vowed that MPs would investigate, The Sun reports.

Mr Francois added that the situation was like “paying for a driving test you never take”.

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it wasn’t aware of how much each course cost, but analysis shows that each course cost a staggering £600,000.

The UK Military Flying Training System was reportedly supposed to save millions of pounds, but this scandal suggests the opposite has occurred.

According to reports, top officials were forced to guess how many classes were needed rather than work out how many were required.

They booked 560 helicopter flying courses between 2018 and 2023. Of these, 86 were no longer required after the end of the war in Afghanistan.

Ex-fighter pilot Tim Davies said the deal was forced on the RAF which he said “cannot flex to cope with new numbers”

Mr Davies added: “The taxpayer ends up picking up the tab.”

In response to the news, Ascent said they worked “as one team” with the MoD and its procurement arm DE&S.

Ascent has said they will not refund the courses or use the time to clear the backlog of other pilots.

The news comes after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace ordered an audit of flying training after leaks showed 350 trainee pilots were waiting years for courses.

In a statement, the MoD insisted the payment was not per class.

A spokesperson said: "Payment is made for a complete service provision which includes aircraft, engineering, hangars, schoolhouses, instructors, syllabus, courseware, flying kit and admin support in all areas.

“The contract has been designed to meet the needs of the frontline which informs the numbers of aircraft, simulators, instructors and even informs the size of hangars, this translates into the requirement against which the UKMFTS contracts are placed.”

The controversy comes during a period when the RAF is trying to save money and modernise its fleet as they try to balance the books whilst maintaining Britain’s status as a major air power.

So let me get this straight. In 2017/18 the RAF had to guess how many total students (helicopter pilots) would need trained in the next 5 years, to secure a contract for said training. This contract was worth approx £2.5Bn. They estimated 580 places, but ended up only needing 474.

Someone had estimated those lost places are worth about £50M.

I don’t get who’s angry here? Are the RAF angry they’re not being ‘refunded’?

Are we meant to be angry that the RAF over estimated the number of places?

This is a silly article. £50M seems like a lot, but in the grand (£45Bn!) scheme of defence spending, over estimating the number of places required for helicopter training is just good insurance.


I mean, it’s the Daily Express. They wouldn’t know good journalism if it bit them on the backside.


… its still 0.1%… theres only 1000 of those and the whole budget is gone.
£50m isnt a £50,000 overspend… its quite a lot!

I don’t really see it as an over spend though, from my POV. More like an insurance.


This only the same as one NHS trust some years ago, contracted out for a number of hip replacement cases, then complained when they didn’t have enough patients to take up the spaces.


I said it isnt overspend.

Point is it aint small beans!

Tbh, 50mil is a big number, but even against 2.5bil it’s not that big. 2% overspend on a project?

Let’s not look past the changing dynamic affecting demand that was not the fault of the RAF. another year in Afghanistan and this wouldn’t be an issue.

I’m not a fan of waste in the MOD as much as anyone, but this isn’t that - there are far more systemic issues that create greater waste and inefficiency as a sum total.

It’s another political attack on the RAF while it’s trendy; how much have the army wasted in recent years? Half a bil on warrior alone? The Navy in recent years have overspent by more than UKMFTS was worth in total! 50 mil is nothing in comparison.

I don’t even really hold anything against Ascent, but in the real world they’d be expected to justify not refunding against investment costs and directly related overheads - you can keep enough to pay costs and avoid losses, but not profit.


£50M here and £50M there, pretty soon you are taking real money.

At the same time imagine the headlines of Afghan was still going and we didn’t have enough pilots available.

It’s the same at work (although not quite the same costs) with people in Specialist units ending up with Advanced Driving courses, these are like rocking horse poo and half the people in places like Counter Terrorism who get them don’t need them. But CT has to bid for the courses at the start of the year and would rather waste a course on a Detective who doesn’t need it than have an untrained surveillance driver because they didn’t bid for enough courses.


It’s a significant waste.

I can understand that a bidding company has to have a firm idea of numbers / timeframe in order to source / allocate resources.

However, having a contract with no wriggle room for such circumstances, however remote, probably wasn’t a good idea.

That’s public sector procurement for you


Ok so… what i dont get…

Why not have the RAF have a standing committment to train to post EFT phase… so Tucanno level… ish.

A guarenteed 50, 100, 200 pilot’s per year.

They might not all get jobs at end. But regardless, at any point the raf then has a large pool of trained pilots to that level.
Type training can follow when needed.

Bit like the army not having enough soldier’s…

And if anything in the advanced trg pipeline goes tango uniform, then there would be the same problem of 10(?) yrs ago, too many newly trained / holding pilots - ah, how would you like to be an ops officer, or logs officer, etc??

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Well, most commercial companies would have a “force majeure” clause listed in order to enforce any regular payment. MoD should have had similar for “X” amount of courses to be cancelled, not just one or 2.


Raf should recurit on that basis.

“You will be trained as a pilot” “but 50/50 will be a logs officer as a career”.

Not like there is a shortage of people wanting to sign up to fly.

Problem is it’s not the old days where you are a slave to your contract, they would all just PVR when they don’t get what they want.

Maybe time to bring back the old VR and Aux Squadrons gentleman flying clubs that can be given further training in the event of war.


Nah, there will always be the “unintended consequences” of those who fall off the flying train set, but to plan like that wouldn’t go down well with the (pilot) recruitment teams & onward trg specialists.


Hmmm, nice idea, but unless you allocate a lot of resources (£££ & availability) to have such pilots kept relatively current on the advanced machines of today, the lag time of getting them up to speed would take far too long, even with an accelerated process.


Also, would there not be employment law to think about - you effectively recruit someone to work and earn X + Y (basic occifer pay + flying pay) and now they only get X.

Ah but flying pay is an allowance to cover increased life insurance payments and other job related personal expenses…

…and not extra beer chits for the bi winged wonder race