The UK Royal Air Force has temporarily suspended operations with its new fleet of Airbus A330 Voyager tanker/transports, after one its current six examples was involved in an unexplained flight incident.
In a statement, the Ministry of Defence confirms that “a Voyager aircraft suffered an in-flight issue on 9 February and as a precaution diverted to an airfield in Turkey.”
AirTanker, which provides the Voyager fleet via the UK’s Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme, describes the incident as having involved “an unscheduled change of flight level”, which occurred while the transport was above Turkey en route to Afghanistan.
Following the event, the aircraft landed safely at Incirlik air base, with nine crew members and 189 passengers aboard. “A few passengers received minor injuries during the incident,” the MoD says, without providing further details. Those personnel affected were transported back to the UK using a Lockheed TriStar from the RAF’s 216 Sqn, it adds.
“The safety of all our aircrews and passengers is our paramount concern, therefore, it has been decided to temporarily pause military registered Voyager flying while a full investigation is completed,” the MoD says.
The decision was made by the Air Officer Commanding the RAF’s 2 Group organisation. As a so-called “duty holder” responsible for the safety of the service’s air transport fleet, the official is expected to approve a resumption of operations only once the factors behind the incident have been determined, and considerations made about any flight safety implications.
Flown by the RAF’s 10 and 101 squadrons from the service’s Brize Norton transport hub in Oxfordshire, the Voyager is replacing the UK’s retired Vickers VC10s and remaining TriStars. Under current plans, the latter model is due to be removed from use on 31 March. Two modified Voyagers began supporting the “air bridge” used to transfer personnel and equipment between the UK and Afghanistan in December 2013.
AirTanker, which also currently operates one unmodified A330 on the UK civil aircraft register, says it is “working closely with the RAF, Ministry of Defence and investigators in accordance with normal procedures.”