RAF reveals FSTA fleet structure: Nine dedicated modified Airbus A330-200s, five back-up

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Nine Airbus A330-200s to be dedicated to RAF operations, five more on rapid readiness for surge requirements

The UK’s delayed Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) project will provide the Royal Air Force with a core fleet of just nine modified Airbus A330-200s, the service has revealed.

Air Cdre Carl Dixon, the Ministry of Defence’s director equipment capability for air and littoral manoeuvre, says the FSTA fleet will total 14 aircraft, nine of which will be dedicated to RAF use. The remainder will be made available for third-party use but held at short-notice readiness to support surge operations, Dixon told the Royal United Services Institute’s Air Power conference in London last week.

Originally intended to replace the RAF’s 28 Lockheed TriStar and Vickers VC10 tanker-transports from 2009, the private finance initiative project has struggled to make progress for more than two years, despite the February 2005 confirmation of EADS-led AirTanker as preferred bidder. However, the MoD is now expected to put forward its business case seeking “Main Gate” approval for the £12.5 billion ($23.4 billion) programme in July, with a contract signature on the 27-year deal expected in late 2006 or 2007.

The RAF says its TriStars and VC10s – 15 of which are configured to deliver fuel – have an availability rate of around 60%, and that the A330’s more than 90% availability will enable the service to increase its current capability. The service is also considering increasing its transport aircraft crew ratio to further boost operational usage, including the use of reserves. EADS last week declined to comment on the MoD disclosure, or to reveal the likely mix of new-build and secondhand aircraft to be delivered.

■ The UK is close to approving the purchase of its four leased Boeing C-17 strategic transports, with the MoD to take ownership in 2008. It will also accelerate the purchase of a fifth C-17 from 2011 to 2008, before production of the type concludes for the US Air Force.