One story which fell between the cracks as a result of my lengthy festive break was the UK Royal Air Force’s introduction of the Airbus A330 Voyager in supporting the service’s vital “airbridge” with Afghanistan.
The first such flight was performed between RAF Brize Norton and Camp Bastion on 8 December, with two aircraft now being used to perform the run three times a week, also visiting RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. Getting Voyager into Afghanistan (Crown Copyright image below) was a vital element in supporting the UK’s planned combat draw-down in the country this year, and followed a programme to bring the type’s defensive aids system fit up to the RAF’s current theatre-entry standard.
Five Voyagers are now on the UK military register and being operated by the RAF’s 10 and 101 squadrons, while AirTanker Services-operated G-VYGG has been making flights down to the Falkland Islands for the last three months. Three more military examples will be arriving at Brize Norton soon, with a nine-aircraft core fleet (including the civilian-registered one) to be ready before the end of May.
The UK’s Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme has come in for plenty of criticism, largely due to its use of private finance initiative funds, but the Voyager fleet is quietly and increasingly now delivering the goods for the air force. We’ll be watching with interest over the next four months, and will hopefully also be able to update you on what might happen with the additional five aircraft to be produced under the deal. And if 2014 offers me the chance to also sample its 34in seat pitch in flight, then so be it.