MoD spent millions on Afghan crisis charter flights

Ministry closed five short-notice whole-aircraft charter agreements over nine days in August
Photo: Andy Wright/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

By SA Mathieson

16 Dec 2021

The Ministry of Defence spent more than £4.5m chartering passenger aircraft in nine days in August, mostly to support the evacuation of people from Afghanistan, procurement data has revealed.

The MoD’s Defence Support Chain Operations and Movements (DSCOM) unit closed five short-term contracts from 16 to 24 August, titled "The supply of whole aircraft charter to move passengers worldwide" and using a framework agreement.

The five contracts, worth between £440,000 and £1.3m, all finished by the end of the month, when evacuations from Kabul airport ended with the withdrawal of the US military and the Taliban taking full control of the country.

CSW understands all but one of the civilian flights chartered by UK defence in August supported the evacuation of people from Afghanistan. During late August, the Royal Air Force operated several flights a day from Kabul airport carrying civil servants, other British citizens and Afghans who worked for the UK. In many cases these ended at airports in the Middle East, with chartered aircraft used to complete the journey to Britain.

The data suggests the urgency of the operation, with charters starting an average of four days after the tenders closed. One closed at 2pm the day before the charter began. By contrast,  for 10 passenger whole-aircraft charters by DSCOM in September, October and November, the average was 20 days.

The data also indicates plans may have been extended at short notice. On 16 August Air Charter Service, a Surbiton-based company which provides government aircraft charters in several countries, won a £560,000 deal running from 24 to 31 August. Three days later, DSCOM awarded it a further contract worth £1.337m, covering an earlier period, 21-24 August.

DSCOM also spent £1.119m chartering aircraft through Chapman Freeborn Airchartering; £1.077m with ACC Aviation; and £440,000 through Air Partner.

Although the short notice of a request can affect charter pricing, costs also depend on the size of the aircraft involved, the scope of the work and market and fuel prices.

A whole-aircraft charter booked by DSCOM through Air Charter Service in June, to move military personnel from Kabul to Birmingham International airport, cost £375,000. However, CSW understands that this covered two aircraft at £187,500 each, while the high-cost contracts in August covered multiple flights.

An MoD spokesperson said: “We regularly charter civilian aircraft for routine tasks, allowing RAF aircraft to focus on operations

"This summer, Defence chartered numerous flights in support of the evacuation operation from Afghanistan where the military airlifted over 15,000 people."

The government has published details of the contracts retrospectively, with one appearing on 8 December.

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