The UK's defence ministry has been criticised by members of parliament for its decision to shut a showpiece fast jet repair centre in Wales.

The UK Defence Aviation Repair Agency (DARA) is to close the jet aircraft MRO facility in St Athan, near Cardiff, as well as its rotary repair station in Fleetlands, near Portsmouth.

The sites are likely to be offered to airframers, in a bid to recover costs. However, yesterday members of the UK parliament's defence select committee called the closure "perverse", given the initial expenditure required to establish both sites during the 1990s.

UK armed forces minister Adam Ingram made the announcement in the House of Commons in December, saying there was "no longer a strategic need to retain the capabilities in MoD [UK defence ministry] ownership".

DARA uses civilian staff and as part of the MoD's MRO streamlining, it lost its repair contracts on the Harrier GR9/9A ground-attack aircraft and Tornado GR4 fighters to Royal Air Force main operating bases. DARA is unprofitable as it has failed to replace these contracts with commercial work, the MoD says. The remaining contract, to overhaul the Vickers VC10 transports, will also be put out to private tender, the MoD adds.

The defence committee said yesterday the £100 million ($179 million) spent on Project Red Dragon to create a "world-class aviation centre" in St Athan would be "wasted" if it were to close, but Ingram insisted government investment had been returned. UK legislators want to launch a full investigation into the decision.

However, much of the initial investment in the "super hangar" St Athan site was paid for by the regional government, using job-creation funds. Now the site is up-and-running, its operating costs have been transferred to the MoD.

The UK government is assessing whether DARA's helicopter repair and associated component businesses, based in Fleetlands and Almondbank, near Perth, Scotland should be sold. The UK Army Base Repair Organisation will also face site closures.

Read Flight International editor Murdo Morrison's September 2005 blog into the A Welsh white elephant

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Read the UK Ministry of Defence announcement here:

Source: Flight International