Britain could lose a key tool in its quest to improve understanding of global climate change, a House of Commons committee has warned.
In its latest report on the Natural Environment Research Council and Research into Climate Change, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee says a decision to reduce funding for the Meteorological Office's specially equipped C130 research aircraft may not be in the "best interests of the country as a whole".
The aircraft is a key tool for scientists investigating atmospheric chemistry which, according to the committee, "currently constitutes the biggest uncertainty in our understanding of global climate change". Despite the Ministry of Defence cuts, the report notes that the Met Office is to attempt to keep the research flight aloft by charging flying time to others. But if not, it would buy time on other aircraft to make the observations it needs.
The House of Commons committee notes: "If attempts to keep the Research Flight fail, it is hard to see precisely where the Met Office will find alternative facilities at a lower cost; both NERC and the Met Office agree that the C130 is the only flight of its calibre in Europe."
The committee adds that even if enough money is raised to keep the flight in being, the amount available to spend on research will diminish as NERC will now have to fund air-time fees topping Pounds 6,000 an hour. Until 1995, flight time was free.
According to the committee, the additional cost to NERC in the coming year, if only top proposals are funded, might exceed Pounds 850,000.