The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been accused of a “gold standard cock-up” by a government minister over eight helicopters which have cost £422m but have never flown.

Commons Public Accounts Committee Chairman Edward Leigh says the eight Chinooks have been “languishing” while troops in Afghanistan needed aircraft.

“The Ministry of Defence’s programme to make airworthy the eight Chinook Mk3 helicopters, which it acquired in 2001 for special operations work, has been a gold standard cock-up,” he says.

“Nearly seven years since they were delivered, the Chinook Mk3s are still languishing in climate-controlled hangers – despite the fact that they are desperately needed on operations in Afghanistan.”

In 1995, the MoD ordered 14 Chinook Mk2a helicopters from Boeing at a cost of £259m.

Eight of the choppers were modified to the more advanced Mk3 model to meet a long-standing demand for machines suitable for special operations.

However, after delivery in 2001, it emerged that there were problems with the avionics software and the helicopters fell short of the UK’s military airworthiness standards.

As a result, they have never flown operationally.

The MoD says it is confident they will be ready for operation from the end of 2009.

By Elizabeth Clifford-Marsh