Airbus Industrie and Boeing are competing to replace the Royal Air Force's Lockheed L-1011 TriStar and Vickers VC10 tanker/transport aircraft, with the two companies preparing private finance initiative (PFI) proposals for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Boeing is understood to be offering a tanker/transport derivative of the Boeing 767, while Airbus is pushing its multi-role tanker/ transport (MRTT) derivative of the A310. Boeing sources say that the aircraft could either be ex-airline aircraft or new-build.

The MoD confirms that it has held preliminary discussions with the two airframe builders, and says that it expects to receive PFI bids from them. The MoD "requirement" is for a minimum of 12 aircraft. Some sources suggest that at least one of the two manufacturers is looking to offer a dedicated fleet of 12 aircraft, with another 12 "reserves" used commercially by a civil cargo operator, but convertible to a tanker configuration within 30 days.

The RAF's planning date to replace the VC10 K2s, K3s and K4s is 2009, with the L-1011 K1s scheduled to run on until 2015. The MoD says that there is no change to the VC10 replacement date, although industry sources suggest that this date could be brought forward. The VC10 is becoming increasingly expensive to maintain.

The RAF's interest in the MRTT/767 is at the expense of the turboprop European Future Large Aircraft (FLA). Originally up to around 50 FLAs were being considered to replace Lockheed Martin C-130s and the VC10s. The RAF's preference for replacing the VC10, however, is for a turbofan-, rather than a turboprop-powered aircraft, to meet the fast-jet tanker role.

Along with the initiative to finance the VC10 replacement privately, the MoD is also looking at meeting an emerging strategic-airlift requirement in a similar fashion. Although it is believed to have rejected as too expensive a PFI offer from McDonnell Douglas for the C-17, the ministry is expected to consider an offer of the same aircraft from specialist cargo operator Air Foyle.

Source: Flight International