The UK Defence Procurement Agency has received "huge amounts of interest" from other nations in its plans to provide the next generation of UK Royal Air Force air-to-air refuelling and transport capabilities via a third-party contractor, according to the head of one of the two competing bids. The contractor would be able to offer spare capacity to other air forces.

"Clearly the organisation that constructs a successful model for something like air-to-air refuelling and air transport is very useful," says Keith Archer-Jones, managing director of the Tanker and Transport Service Company (TTSC), one of the two contenders for the 27-year, $21 billion contract.

"I would envisage there will be huge opportunities that will emerge for us when we become preferred bidder," he says confidently. The UK Government is due to announce a preferred bidder for its Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft contest by the end of this year, with formal contract award scheduled for around a year later and entry into service in January 2008.

TTSC, backed by BAE Systems, Boeing, Serco and Spectrum Capital, is offering a fleet of up to 20 ex-British Airways Boeing 767-300ERs for the requirement. Its opposition is AirTanker, whose consortium members - Cobham, Rolls-Royce, EADS and Thales - are offering new-build Airbus A330s.

TTSC claims it will be some $365m cheaper than AirTanker over the course of the contract; AirTanker, in turn, believes new aircraft will give it the edge in terms of service life and increased capability over existing RAF tankers.

TTSC, which will be holding a briefing in the Boeing press chalet on Tuesday, has just selected Marshall Aerospace of Cambridge, UK, to handle the conversions of the ex-BA 767s, citing the company's experience in handling previous ex-BA and PanAm Lockheed TriStar tanker conversions for the RAF.

Archer-Jones says if TTSC is selected for the contract, Boeing will handle the first two conversions. Thereafter, "there will probably be two aircraft at Marshalls at any given time", with deliveries continuing through to early 2012.

The so-called 'contractorisation' principle envisages the contest winner being able to use the dual civil/military-registered aircraft for third-party revenue-earning contracts when not required by the RAF. TTSC will employ all 'point of service delivery' personnel as 'sponsored reserves', enabling them to be switched to military roles whenever required.

Although the UK already draws on sponsored reserves - who can be called up in time of emergency - recent experience in the Gulf War has shown companies sometimes reluctant to release staff for indefinite periods. That problem would not exist if TTSC was the employer.

Source: Flight Daily News