Stop charging museums for displaying historic military aircraft, Parliamentary Group tells Defence Secretary

04/07/18

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on General Aviation has written to the Defence Secretary criticising the Government’s approach to the disposal of historic aircraft. 

In a wide-ranging critique, Parliamentary Group Chair Grant Shapps MP, and Heritage Working Group Co-Chairs Dr Robert Pleming and Robert Courts MP, argue that the system is unfair, arbitrary and not in the interest of our armed forces. At present, most museums and air display organisations are charged high fees to display former military aircraft to the public by Government contractors. This makes it “almost impossible” for most museums to display historic aircraft to the public.

In the letter, the Chairs argue that “historic aircraft have the ability to inspire young people to pursue careers in the RAF whilst developing an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills on which our Services rely. But our young people can only be inspired by these historic aircraft if they are able to see them – something the current system seems almost designed to actively prevent.”

They also point out that having paid significant amounts of money to maintain these aircraft over their lifetimes, it is only fair that the public be able to appreciate and enjoy them once they retire.

The fact that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has exempted a small number of larger ‘national’ museums from the fees regime also comes under fire. The letter argues that the MOD’s focus on these ‘national’ institutions is unjustified as it means the department effectively “ignores many areas of the nation with strong aviation-based economies where younger generations could be inspired to pursue careers in aviation”. Furthermore, it is “not clear which criteria are used to assess whether a museum has a ‘local’ or ‘national’ impact or indeed why drawing such a distinction is necessary at all”.

The letter highlights the case of Solway Aviation Museum in Cumbria which has had its request to be gifted a retired RAF Tornado turned down. Despite its significant footfall of 20,000 visitors a year and the important contribution it makes to preserving Britain’s aviation heritage the MOD has classed Solway as a ‘local’ museum and demanded it pay for the aircraft. The museum cannot afford the asking price and there is little interest from elsewhere. This means that the plane, which has seen service in the Gulf, Kosovo and Iraq Wars, seems destined for the scrapheap.

Commenting on the letter, Grant Shapps, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation, said: “In the 100th year of the RAF – now is the time for the MOD to reform this damaging, short-sighted regime which hides our heritage and fleeces the charities that inspire young people to join our armed services. I look forward to hearing the Defence Secretary’s response to our letter and hope we can work with him to build a better system which will make these inspirational historic aircraft accessible to all.”

Robert Courts MP, parliamentary chair of the Heritage Working Group said: “I am pleased to bring this important issue before the Secretary of State for Defence. Historic aircraft is part of our common heritage, and we must ensure we have the right policies in place to preserve and protect these aircraft for future generations.”

Dr Robert Pleming, sector chair of the Heritage Working Group, commented: “The UK’s unique network of aviation heritage sites provide important country-wide reminders of the huge British contribution to aviation over the years, and a powerful stimulus to the young to become involved with aviation, engineering and technology. I heartily welcome this proposal for a policy change enabling all aviation museums to more easily receive aircraft and related items once the Services have no longer need for them.”

The full letter can be read below.

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation has 161 parliamentary members from across both Houses of Parliament, and all the major political parties. The full membership can be found at www.GeneralAviationAPPG.uk/parliamentary-members.

The Heritage Working Group has a comprehensive programme of work, which can be downloaded at www.GeneralAviationAPPG.uk/heritage.