Monday, March 09, 2009

PFI does not mean "public flying initiative"

David Axe:
For instance, which of these is better:

* An air-superiority system comprising, say, 381 F-22s with 60-percent readiness, two pilots per plane, no electronic jamming and very aged tankers, or

* A system, costing roughly the same, but comprising 187 F-22s plus 200 brand-new F-15E+s, with a combined 75-percent readiness, three pilots per plane, a new jamming plane and the first installments on a robust fleet of new tankers?

He's got a good point. Of course, the sums for the UK don't work the same way - we are unlikely to be able to fill the front line with numbers of aircraft, so they better be good. But that suggests that the infrastructure is even more important. The Battle of Britain was won with infrastructure - training facilities, for pilots but also for technicians and engineers, airfields, radar, and most of all, command-and-control and logistics. This stuff may have been the first 90 per cent, or the last 10 per cent, but either way, it was vital.

Getting to the point, it's now 13 years since the original response to the MOD request-for-products for new tankers. Airbus offered either a new version of the A330 or else 25 tanker/transport conversions of A310s, on a timeline that would have had them all in service by now. The PFI scheme won't deliver the first A330MRTT, which isn't even one of the KC-45s that Boeing was willing to resort to such corruption to block, for several years even now. (The full spec KC-45 gets a cargo door and a lot of extra comms equipment.) Apparently there are efforts afoot to keep the VC-10s going even longer.

It's no wonder Sir Steven Robson was on the Royal Bank of Scotland's board; a more harmful public servant is hard to imagine. Having invented PFIs, he designed railway privatisation; then he subsided into the arms of the PPP Forum, a body half-funded by the Government and by the beneficiaries which aims to create as many PFIs as possible.

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