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Boeing 707 retirements prompt Australian tanker-transport shortfall

The Royal Australian Air Force is facing a six- to 18-month gap in the availability of operational in-flight refuelling aircraft, as a result of plans to withdraw its final Boeing 707 tanker from service in July 2008.

The service is not expecting to achieve initial operational capability with its new Airbus A330-based KC-30B multi-role tanker transports until late 2009, with this milestone set for the availability of two of its five aircraft.

Australia's Department of Defence announced that only one 707 tanker will be in service for the next eight months, following the 31 October retirement of the RAAF's only other available example from an originally five-strong fleet. The retired aircraft are being cannibalised to provide operational spares for the sole remaining platform.

The DoD's new annual report, released on 31 October, says delays in the test and qualification programme for the KC-30B's boom refuelling system resulted in risk-mitigation plans for a two-phase conversion and flight-test programme by the RAAF. Contract changes were negotiated last December to support adjustments to the test programme and support unspecified cockpit configuration changes, it adds.

The first converted KC-30B made its debut flight last June, but phase one flight testing is only just starting. "The test readiness review is expected to occur by the end of October 2007 in support of commencement of Phase 2 test activities in early 2008," the DoD says. "The in-service date - for two aircraft, qualification tested and issued with military airworthiness certificates - remains as planned for late 2009."

Development of the EADS boom remains a medium-level risk for the project, the report says, revealing that the company had logged 35 test flights by April using an A310 demonstrator, with testing to continue until year-end. However, "final qualification of the boom is not required until commencement of phase two flight testing", it says.

Total outlays on Project Air 5402 over the 2006-7 Australian financial year, which ended on 30 June, were A$116 million ($106 million) A$31 million lower than planned. Total spending on the KC-30B at the start of the 2007-8 financial year had reached A$383 million, from a total budget allocation of A$1.8 billion.

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