The UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft fleet modernisation programme has taken another step forward with the delivery of the third modified Airbus A330 to RAF Brize Norton on 19 December.
The AirTanker consortium responsible for delivering 14 of the Airbus multi-role tanker transports has supplied three aircraft this year and says it is on track to provide a core capability of nine aircraft by mid-2014. Three more of the Voyager aircraft are to be delivered during the first half of 2013.
The third delivery followed the completion of the second aircraft's proving flight, to Reykjavik on 13 December, to secure approval from the UK's Civil Aviation Authority.
The Voyager fleet, which will replace the RAF's tanker/transport inventory which today comprises Lockheed TriStars and Vickers VC10s, is being operated by AirTanker, using its own civilian pilots. The arrangement is a private-sector partnership, which AirTanker chief executive Phill Blundell describes as providing the RAF with "new operational flexibility".
Since the first Voyager was delivered in April, AirTanker has flown more than 320 times, carrying more than 16,000 passengers, in excess of 1,100t of cargo and clocked more than 1,140h, with aircraft availability of 96% and an on-time performance of almost 98%.
"Our operational levels of service are comparable to that of any commercial airline," says Blundell.
The original Voyager plan called for the aircraft to be modified by Cobham Aviation Services at Bournemouth airport in Dorset, and it has worked on aircraft three and four. However, to meet its delivery promises AirTanker has moved some of the work to Airbus Military's Getafe plant near Madrid.