Airbus Military has offered Australia a sixth A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft, giving Canberra until mid-2012 to make a decision.

The unsolicited offer involves an aircraft, MSN 871, that was previously involved in the US Air Force's KC-X tanker competition, said Airbus in an email to Flightglobal. After years of controversy, the Boeing 767-based KC-46A emerged as the ultimate winner of the KC-X competition in 2011.

Industrial benefits that would accrue to Australia appear to play a significant part in Airbus's offer.

"Allocating conversion works related to the RAAF's [Royal Australian Air Force's] sixth MRTT in Australia would imply one additional year of full working capability, including altogether 200 high skilled staff in the Brisbane conversion centre," said Airbus Military.

 RAAF A330 MRTT front

© Airbus Military

The company says the conversion of a sixth aircraft, which would be undertaken at Qantas Defence Services in Brisbane, would mean about 150,000 man hours of work. "That is an important industrial benefit," it says.

If Canberra accepts the offer by May 2012, the aircraft could be delivered in November 2013.

"We think it is a very interesting proposal but we have to see if the necessary budget is there, although we see possibilities," says the company.

Industry sources indicate that an additional A330 MRTT would cost roughly A$200 million ($212 million).

Qantas Defence Services has already converted four A330 aircraft into the MRTT configuration, and is working on a fifth. The aircraft is designated the KC-30 in RAAF service.

Keeping an A330 MRTT conversion capability open in Brisbane could see Qantas Defence Services positioned to perform similar work should India select the type in its competition for six tankers. India has already completed flight trials of the A330 MRTT and Ilyushin Il-78MK.

The RAAF has so far taken delivery of four A330 MRTTs. Three are based at its Amberley air base in Queensland, while the fourth is at Airbus Military's Getafe facility near Madrid, Spain, where further modifications are being made to its boom system.

Australia should have all five of its A330 MRTTs by the end of 2012, with initial operational capability also expected by the end of the year. This will cover hose-and-drogue refuelling and the strategic transport of passengers. Testing of the aircraft's refuelling boom is likely to commence in 2013.

Source: Flight International