NATO is considering using converted Airbus A310-300 widebody freighters as an interim transport aircraft ahead of a decision on future airlift capability. The alliance's high-level group's next meeting will be held at EADS's Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW) passenger-to-freighter conversion facility in Dresden on 20 May. Defence ministries are understood to be unofficially studying the type's potential role.

Several European members of NATO, including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the UK, are looking for transport aircraft to operate before delivery of Airbus Military A400Ms. The official candidates are Boeing C-17s on short-term lease, or Antonov An-70 airlifters, but EFW was invited to present the operating economics of the civilian widebody late last month in Brussels.

EFW estimates its A310-300 conversion, which uses patented over-ridable rails and clips, could be used for 90% of military cargo flights. The aircraft can accommodate any combination of military 108in (275cm) pallets and civilian 88in or 96in pallets side by side. Acquisition costs could be around one-quarter of their competitors and operating costs about one-tenth.

The European Air Group's airlift co-ordination cell is thought to be sufficiently interested in these figures to have shifted its next meeting from Bonn to Dresden. EFW cannot formally offer the A310-300, which it sees as "complementing" either the C-17 or An-70 for airport-to-airport freight, until the group redefines the requirement to include palletised cargo.

EFW says it will not alter the specifications of the aircraft, but would work with cargo equipment companies to develop a 108in pallet loading platform. EFW says Canada and Germany, which have ordered the A310 multirole tanker transport (MRTT), are interested in the commonality the aircraft would afford. The first MRTT is being converted at EFW on behalf of EADS CASA.

Source: Flight International