Iberia Maintenance pushes boundaries with tanker conversion

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After converting Saudi Arabia's first Airbus A330 multi role tanker transport (MRTT) on behalf of Airbus Military, Iberia Maintenance hopes to secure more specialist work beyond commercial aircraft support.

The Spanish MRO company installed underwing hose and drogue refuelling pods on both wings, a fuselage-mounted refuelling boom as well as related equipment on the aircraft, after it had been delivered from the manufacturer's final assembly line in Toulouse in November 2009. The General Electric CF6-powered twinjet was handed back to Airbus Military on Tuesday.

The tanker can not only refuel other aircraft but has also been equipped to take on fuel itself in mid-air.

Around 5,500 components, including 2,000 structural parts, were modified during the 140,000 man-hour conversion programme. This included reinforcements to the wing structure and other parts of the airframe.

Electronic equipment, such as a fly-by-wire control device for the refuelling system and avionics, was installed, which led to nearly 60km (37 miles) of additional electric wiring.

As the Spanish company wants to "re-orient its maintenance business towards technologically challenging and high value-added activities", the MRTT project was important to demonstrate its ability to adjust "to any productive process and quality requirements of any company in the [aerospace] sector," says a spokesperson.

José Luis Ruiz de Castañeda, executive vice president maintenance and engineering, called the conversion work "certainly the biggest challenge we have ever faced in the transformation of aircraft".