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AirTanker: FSTA preparations on track

Preparations to field the UK’s Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) are on track, with the first two sponsored reservist pilots recruited and 11 military engineers having recently been selected to support the Royal Air Force’s fleet of modified Airbus A330-200s.

An eventual 14 of the aircraft will be based at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire starting from late next year, having been ordered via a roughly £10.5 billion ($16.8 billion) private finance initiative deal to run until at least 2035.

The EADS UK-led AirTanker Services consortium has already managed the construction of a new two-bay hangar at Brize Norton, and associated office and training school facilities are also nearing readiness. The company, which has 45 employees, will move on to the base next May, but the FSTA service will eventually have 500 staff, including 300 military personnel and 175 engineers.

© Airbus Military
The UK's FSTA fleet will total 14 modified A330-200s

“We’ve got a significant amount of recruiting to carry out – civilians with the appropriate engineering qualifications who are willing and able to become sponsored reservists,” says fleet engineering director Paul Kimberley. AirTanker has also recently signed up its first sponsored reservist engineer.

An initial intake of military engineering personnel has recently been selected to support the A330. “We had a lot of interest,” he says, with nearly 800 applicants having contacted the company about the first 11 available posts. The selected candidates will start a two-year training programme in January, and then serve a tour of at least three years on the FSTA programme.

The first two of a planned 14 sponsored reservist pilots have also been recruited, with AirTanker seeking experienced A330 training captains and ex-military pilots to take on instructional roles and also support AirTanker's civilian operations.

“We are looking for people with a very specialised set of skills,” says James Scott, AirTanker’s director of flight operations. “We aim to combine civil best practice with a military ethos.”

Under current plans nine of the FSTA fleet will be dedicated for RAF operations, with the rest to be made available for third-party use. “From our perspective, we would like to see all 14 aircraft flying,” Scott says. “There’s a lot more that we could do with the fleet.”

© Babcock
A new two-bay hangar has already been constructed at RAF Brize Norton

First to arrive in October 2011 will be a two-point tanker with Cobham 905E underwing hose and drogue refuelling pods, with the delivery to mark the type’s introduction to service. Five aircraft will be in use by early 2013, nine by late 2014 and all 14 delivered by mid-2016, when full service delivery will start.

The UK’s second modified A330 was rolled out at Airbus Military’s Getafe site near Madrid on 8 October, and is expected to be flown soon. Cobham will prepare the remaining 12 at its Bournemouth airport site in Dorset, starting from next year.

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