AirTanker has confirmed that the first Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) in military configuration took to the skies over Madrid for the first time today, Thursday 16 September 2010. The successful test flight – which lasted just under two hours – took place on schedule after the completion of a comprehensive military conversion programme by Airbus Military at their purpose-built facility near Madrid, Spain.
This aircraft, which is based on the A330-200 commercial airliner, is destined for delivery to the Royal Air Force (RAF) as part of the 14-strong FSTA fleet. The fleet will provide an essential air transport – including aero medical evacuation – and air-to-air refuelling capability to the RAF as part of a wider integrated aircraft service to be delivered by AirTanker over 24 years from delivery.
Conversion activity for the first two aircraft over the last year has included the installation of military avionics and air-to-air refuelling equipment, as well as work to enable the fitting of a defensive aids suite and the handling of military cargo. A series of test flights will continue in Spain over the coming months before moving to Boscombe Down to begin UK receiver clearance trials in spring next year. The first aircraft to be delivered to the RAF will arrive at RAF Brize Norton, where it will be based, at the end of next year.
Phill Blundell, Chief Executive of AirTanker, said: “This represents another important milestone in the FSTA programme, which continues to run on schedule. To see the converted aircraft flying helps to remind all involved that the delivery of the first aircraft to the RAF is not far away.
“I would like to congratulate Airbus Military on this splendid achievement. An enormous amount of work has gone into making sure that the highest standards have been maintained – all those involved have done a fantastic job. I am confident that we will deliver the reliable and efficient refuelling and transport service that the RAF and wider Armed Forces deserve and need, with the new FSTA fleet at the core. ”
Engineers from UK-based Cobham have been integrated into Airbus Military’s workforce during conversion in preparation for taking on the work themselves in the UK for the rest of the fleet at their Bournemouth facility. This work will start towards the end of next year.
In other areas of the programme, the first tranche of RAF Engineers have just gone through the selection process and will start training with AirTanker in January 2011. The main AirTanker buildings at RAF Brize Norton are nearing completion and work towards gaining the relevant licences and approvals continues as AirTanker prepares for delivery of the first aircraft towards the end of 2011.
- — AirTanker Services was created in 2008 to deliver the FSTA service to the UK Ministry of Defence, which will provide the Royal Air Force with a reliable, safe and efficient Air Transport (AT) and Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) service over 24 years.
- — The FSTA service will use 14 new, specially converted, state-of-the-art A330-200 aircraft, each of which will be capable of carrying passengers with associated freight or aero medical patients in addition to its AAR role. As well as reducing overall running costs and significantly improving reliability, the aircraft will have considerably less impact on the environment than its predecessors. The first aircraft is due to be delivered towards the end of 2011.
- — The FSTA programme covers all aspects of an integrated aircraft service, ranging from the provision of the infrastructure, a full flight crew and engineer training service, through to aircraft maintenance, despatch and ground support. It will combine best practice from civil aviation with RAF operational expertise and military ethos to create a most efficient and effective operational solution for the RAF.
- — AirTanker will create and sustain high-value, high-quality UK jobs. The FSTA programme will directly sustain up to 3,000 jobs and indirectly sustain up to a further 4,500 jobs.
- — The FSTA service will be provided by AirTanker Services under fixed pricing arrangements with clear performance indicators. The MOD will only pay for the service once it is available and then only for the capacity that it uses, subject to agreed minimum usage levels.
- — AirTanker Services is contracted to operate the service from AirTanker Ltd, who hold the Contract from the MOD. AirTanker Services has five shareholders, who are also primary sub-contractors for the programme. They are: EADS (aircraft manufacture and initial conversion via Airbus Military); Cobham (refuelling equipment and aircraft conversion); Rolls-Royce (engine assembly, support and project management); Thales UK (mission simulators, defensive aids, avionics and mission planning systems); and Babcock (infrastructure and communications/information systems, design, build and support, and certain elements of technical support to the aircraft).