The Royal Australian Air Force has fallen short of meeting operational flying targets for the 2000-1 financial year.

The service has warned that operational preparedness targets for combat aircraft are being compromised, with long-term re-equipment plans critical to overcoming serious problems caused by shortcomings in recruitment and retention, and logistics support.

The 17,200h shortfall represents a 7,470h increase on 1999-2000. This is despite a decrease in the target hours set by the May 2000 defence budget.

According to the Australian defence ministry's latest annual report, planned RAAF flying hours for 2000-1 were 84,870. Only 67,660h were flown.

Among the major variations were a 5,70h shortfall in PilatusPC-9 trainer flying, 2,620h on the BAE Systems Hawk trainer, and 3,950h on the Lockheed Martin C-130H.

RAAF General Dynamics F-111s recorded an 840h shortfall on a target of 3,600h, while its Boeing F/A-18 Hornets experienced a 670h shortfall on a planned 13,000h. The report says that the F-111 results were caused by a combination of ageing aircraft issues, a fuel tank sealant problem, upgrade delays and "aircrew, engineer and technical personnel shortfalls". It reveals that two of the 14 F-111Gs are being broken up for spares.

Pilot shortages are also identified as a key cause of the F/A-18 shortfall, the report warning that "fast-jet pilot and equipment shortages have limited the ability to sustain and conduct concurrent operations". The RAAF is understood to have fewer than 30 fully-qualified F/A-18 pilots, but 71 aircraft.

The report says that "personnel and logistics shortfalls, combined with reduced aircraft availability for a number of key platforms [have] adversely affected the sustainability of air force operations". A number of key air force platforms are experiencing a range of ageing aircraft issues, including fatigue, corrosion and spares availability.

"These issues resulted in an increased maintenance effort, reduced aircraft availability and increased costs during 2000-2001. The recent decision to withdraw the Boeing 707 fleet, including the requirement for an interim air-to-air refuelling capability, is indicative of the magnitude of the decisions the RAAF faces."

Source: Flight International