Airbus updates A330 tanker progress, nears decision on KC-X bid

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Airbus Military expects to soon receive European Aviation Safety Agency civil certification for its Airbus A330-based multi-role tanker transport, with flight-test and aircraft modification work now under way for all four customers for the type.

Military certification of the tanker/transport is expected to also be in place by the middle of the year, says head of Airbus military derivatives Antonio Caramazana. The aircraft's underwing refuelling pods are undergoing final checks, and work will start this month on clearing its advanced boom refuelling system.

Two of the Royal Australian Air Force's eventual five A330s are supporting the flight-test activities in Spain, with the pair having made almost 500 dry and wet contacts with receiver aircraft and transferred more than 120t of fuel in flight.

 
© Airbus Military
Flight tests have involved Spanish air force EF-18s

Canberra expects to take delivery of its first two aircraft late this year, with full operating capability to be declared after the last arrives in 2012.

The UK's first two of 14 Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft are also in work at Airbus Military's Getafe plant near Madrid. Now being configured as a three-point tanker with wing pods and a centreline fuselage refuelling unit, the first of these will fly in military guise in September, the company says.

More than 30 personnel from UK company Cobham Aviation Services are already at the site in preparation for modifying the rest of the fleet at Bournemouth in Dorset from September 2011.

Also now entering conversion are the first MRTT aircraft destined for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have ordered for six and three tankers respectively.

 
© Airbus Military
The UAE will receive three boom-equipped A330 tankers

Caramazana says he is "determined" to offer the A330-based KC-45 in response to a new request for proposals for the US Air Force's 179-aircraft KC-X tanker deal, noting: "We have won once, and want to again." However, EADS says officially that its partner Northrop Grumman is continuing to evaluate the document before deciding whether to bid for the requirement against incumbent supplier Boeing.

Airbus has identified other potential sales prospects as existing in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America. It is awaiting a fresh request for quotation from India after coming "very close to a contract award" last year, Caramazana says.

Discussions also continue with France to provide a replacement for its Boeing C/KC-135s. "We have been exploring different approaches with combinations of A310s and A330s since 2004, even offering a private finance initiative-type model," he says. "We consider we're in the final loop, but these are not decisions that get made overnight."