The Royal Air Force's loss of a Nimrod MR2 reconnaissance aircraft and 14 lives over Afghanistan last year remains a poignant symbol of the operational troubles facing the UK's stretched armed forces.

Delivered in 1970 as a maritime patrol aircraft, XV230 had been forced into an overland surveillance role for which it had never been intended, but which the underfunded RAF says remains vital in protecting British and coalition lives "on an almost daily basis".

A board of inquiry report has exposed the terrible nature of the crash, and revealed that the threat of fire posed by the MR2's frequent fuel leaks had been underestimated, or simply forgotten about, since they were identified in the mid-1980s. This revelation has turned a tragedy into a scandal from which the Ministry of Defence and RAF say they will quickly learn.

The government and the air force were right to apologise for the failings which led to the crash, and their offers of a possible public inquiry will hearten those families still seeking answers after the earlier losses of Chinook ZD576 and Hercules XV179.

Two more major fuel leaks have raised fresh doubts about the MR2's ability to soldier on until 2012, and if the UK had avoided its failings on the Nimrod MRA4 then these aircraft, and XV230, would have already left service. Heaven forbid that delays with new tankers, transports and helicopters have similar results.

Source: Flight International