Airbus Military has launched an investigation into an in-flight refuelling mishap that damaged one of the Royal Australian Air Force's delayed A330 multi-role tanker transports (MRTT).

The aircraft was being operated by Airbus Military personnel from the company's Getafe site near Madrid, Spain when the incident happened at around 17:00 local time on 19 January. Also involved was a Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter from the Portuguese air force.

 A330 MRTT trail

RAAF MRTT with F-16 - Airbus Military

File images © Airbus Military

"The incident resulted in the detachment and partial loss of the refuelling boom from the MRTT," the Australian Department of Defence says. The separated part fell into the sea after causing "some damage to both aircraft", which then "returned safely to their home airfields", it adds.

"Airbus Military and the relevant European military airworthiness authorities will have the lead responsibility for investigating the incident," the DoD says. Australian experts will also participate in the process.

Designed by EADS, the MRTT's advanced refuelling boom system uses fly-by-wire controls and has an extended length of 18.2m (60ft). The system is also being installed on A330 tankers on order for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The mishap comes at an embarrassing time for EADS North America, which is offering the A330-based KC-45 against the Boeing 767 NewGen Tanker in the US Air Force's 179-aircraft KC-X contest. Its offer draws heavily on the MRTT configuration developed for Australia.

Airbus chief executive Tom Enders describes KC-X as "a very important business opportunity for EADS and Airbus".

Australia will receive five MRTTs under the nation's Project Air 5402 acquisition. The first two had been due to arrive in December, but Airbus Military and the DoD are still working to complete the necessary paperwork ahead of the transfer. To be designated the KC-30A in RAAF service, the type had originally been due to enter use from mid-2009.

 A330 MRTT fuel tank arrangement, ©Flight

Source: Flight International