The UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) provider, AirTanker, has performed its first flights as an approved airline, having used a civilian-registered Airbus A330 Voyager to transport British military personnel to Cyprus on 5 January.
Registered as G-VYGG, the transport late last year joined the AirTanker fleet at the Royal Air Force's Brize Norton base in Oxfordshire, which also currently comprises two military-registered examples: ZZ330 and ZZ331. They are among an eventual total of 14 A330s that will be made available to the service under the FSTA programme, including nine that will be held as a core fleet for air transport and tanker duties. The remainder will be made available at short notice if needed to support military operations, but also offered for third-party roles such as air charter operations for civilian customers.
Aircraft G-VYGG made its debut flight for the airline following AirTanker's receipt of an air operator's certificate after a successful test flight for the UK Civil Aviation Authority in December 2012, which involved flying the widebody aircraft to Reykjavik, Iceland.
A company-provided crew led by AirTanker director of flight operations and aircraft captain James Scott performed the flight to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. "Our passengers arrived on time and in comfort," he says.
AirTanker says the benefit of having at least of one of the 14 Voyagers retained on the civilian register is to give the RAF "guaranteed access and greater flexibility" than a traditional charter arrangement would provide. This will allow the UK to plan military operations with greater certainty, it adds.
Three more Voyagers are due to arrive at Brize Norton before mid-2013, with AirTanker also expecting an "imminent" approval to perform its first air-to-air refuelling activities with the type.