Stewart Penney/LONDON


The UK Ministry of Defence's decision to abandon its Short Term Strategic Airlifter (STSA) competition has left bidders surprised and angry.

The competition was dropped as the five bids did not offer an acceptable solution at an affordable price, according to the MoD (Flight International, 11-17 August). The UK Defence Procurement Agency (DPA) is now "urgently" broadening its search, says the MoD. New proposals must be "cost effective over the present spot charter arrangements", it adds. One competitor expressed irritation at the move as it allows new bidders to benefit from work performed by original STSA contestants.

STSA is complicated as it will involve a seven- to nine-year lease. At the same time, the UK is seeking a Future Transport Aircraft (FTA) which will replace the STSA and elderly Royal Air Force transports in 2008. FTA and STSA decisions are due early next year.

Air Foyle director Bruce Bird is unhappy as the DPA had not concluded a technical assessment of its bid - Antonov An-124s with new cockpits based around Honeywell avionics and re-engined with Rolls-Royce RB211s. He says the DPA was setting up more evaluation meetings and arranging for RAF pilots to fly the unmodified aircraft.

The Ukrainian Government did not allow An-124s to take part in NATO operations against Yugoslavia, but Bird says the government has since guaranteed aircraft availability.

Bird believes recent experience with introducing new systems and engines to old airframes, including the Lockheed Martin C-130J and British Aerospace Nimrod MRA4, has left the MoD wary of such programmes.

Boeing says it will accept the MoD's offer of a debrief and continue to discuss solutions based on its C-17 Globemaster III, which was considered the lead contender in the STSA competition. The company says it assumes cost is the MoD's prime concern.

Industry sources suggest that the concurrent conclusion of STSA and FTA will allow Boeing to offer the C-17s with pricing based on an offer to the US Air Force of $149 million each. While the RAF could not share C-17s with the charter market, high utilisation could be achieved by using a single C-17 flying a circular mission between RAF bases to replace four Hercules "out and back" flights.

R-R and Airbus offered a managed fleet and a combination of A300 freighters and a A300-600ST Beluga, respectively. Both will continue talks with the MoD. The last bidder was IBP offering unmodified An-124s.

Source: Flight International