From the Telegraph today: The number of paratroopers able to parachute has fallen dramatically since the invasion of Iraq because the air transport arm of the RAF has been unable to provide enough aircraft. Figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act show that the number to have successfully completed the parachute course at Brize Norton has plummeted from 92 per cent in 2003 to just under a quarter last year. Hundreds of soldiers, who have to complete the arduous P Company selection before going to parachute school, have returned to their units without their coveted wings. The figures are even worse for Territorial Army paratroopers with only one person - a medical student who reported sick and was granted extra time off - getting through last year. In 2003, 93 per cent of TA paratroopers passed. The RAF has been blamed for lacking flexibility in providing aircraft, but Air Force chiefs say their fleet of 50 C130 Hercules has a priority to deliver supplies to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. To qualify, a trainee paratrooper must complete six drops at the Parachute Training School followed by two drops with his unit before being able to sew the famous wings on the Para smock. As a trainee, a soldier is not able to continue in the Parachute Regiment if he refuses to jump, and no one can remain in the Paras for an extended period without getting their wings. Col Simon Barry, a former commanding officer in the Parachute Regiment, said many RAF parachute instructor officers had been "less than flexible and committed to providing the training that Airborne Forces require". "It is time to review the whole system completely and put it somewhere that can be relied upon to deliver." He suggested hiring other aircraft to dispatch parachutists rather than "the overworked Hercules". He said: "It is just amazing that we cannot put all this together and make it work." A serving Para officer said new troops arriving at battalions without wings were being "treated like second class citizens". He added: "If you turn up with wings and the red beret, however 'green' they might think you are, there is nothing anyone can say about you not being a Para." Major Gen Julian Thompson, a Royal Marine who commanded a brigade of paratroopers in the Falklands war, said the figures were "indicative of the overstretch" in the military. "It indicates that aircraft availability is at rock bottom, which makes you ask yourself what else is at risk." A TA soldier who has tried on three occasions to complete the course said people would be put off from making the substantial effort to get through P Company if they had to "wait in the queue for years to get their wings". A spokesman for the Army Training and Recruiting Agency, which provided the figures, said the low pass rate was due to "lack of aircraft availability, inability to jump due to adverse weather conditions and disruption stemming from Operation Telic [the Iraq invasion]". He admitted that the Forces were "juggling with scarce resources". An RAF spokesman said 30 Hercules were available every day but operations and humanitarian efforts took precedence over training. He added: "We don't believe that people not getting through their parachuting course will have an impact on operational capabilities." Methinks an RAF spokesman was rather brave making that last comment - silly bugger.