Max Kingsley-Jones & Stewart Penney/LONDON

Three of the four teams invited to tender bids for the UK Royal Air Force's Future Strategic Tanker (FSTA) competition are basing their proposals around British Airways Boeing 767s. Secondhand McDonnell Douglas DC-10s have also emerged as candidates, as well as Airbus widebodies.

The FSTA is potentially worth £9 billion ($14.6 billion) over 20 years and will be funded using a private finance initiative (PFI). Service entry by 2004 is the target, allowing retirement of the RAF's 24 ageing BAC VC10s and potentially its Lockheed TriStar tanker transports.

Four bidders have lined up for the FSTA: Cobham subsidiary FRA, Brown &Root, Rolls-Royce and Thomson-CSF have formed Eurotanker; BAE Systems has linked with Raytheon; Serco with Spectrum Capital and Rolls-Royce has a standalone bid known as Air Reach (Flight International, 17-23 November, 1999).

According to industry sources, bids from Eurotanker, Serco and Air Reach are based around, or include, BA's fleet of R-R RB211-powered 767-300ERs. BA has yet to decide the future of its 767s, which are between one and 10 years old, but they are likely to become a casualty of the airline's capacity cuts.

Eurotanker, which includes Irish leasing specialist Omega Air, is offering up to ten 767s and twenty 18-25-year-old DC-10-40s purchased from Japan Airlines. The Serco and Air Reach bids potentially include all 28 of BA's twinjets.

The RAF requires about 20-25 tanker transports of the size of 767s. The winning consortium will offer capacity to allied nations when the aircraft are not required by the UK. This includes the Royal Australian Air Force, which is also looking at a PFI.

Cobham chief executive Gordon Page says Boeing is interested in working with the winner to convert BA aircraft to tankers. Boeing would install the cargo door and militarise the aircraft. FRA would perform the tanker modifications.

R-R's Rob Aitchison, who leads the Air Reach bid, says it offers the least risk to the RAF. He describes the 767 as the "solution that most closely meets the requirement".

Omega's DC-10 proposal may be frustrated as the RAF could keep its TriStars until 2010 and may review a decision not to fit the aircraft with wing-mounted hose units. Raytheon, BAE and Airbus plan to offer A310s, A330s or a combination.

An industry source suggests that, if Airbus launches the A330M19 shrink, it will have "what looks like a highly compliant aircraft".

Source: Flight International