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Tanker programmes promise boom time

In addition to expanding its transport and maritime patrol aircraft activities through its Spanish arm Casa, EADS is also placing great emphasis – and considerable investment – on breaking into the air-to-air refuelling (AAR) market previously dominated by Boeing.

Central to this strategy has been its development of a new air refuelling boom system (ARBS) to equip widebody aircraft such as the Airbus A310 and A330. Originally planned to make its first flight on an EADS-owned A310 in mid-2005, the ARBS is now ready to fly from Getafe near Madrid to start an initial trials programme that should conclude late this year (Flight International, 21-27 February). Although the ARBS has yet to get off the ground physically, EADS has already succeeded in securing its first customer for the boom, with the Royal Australian Air Force to receive five ARBS-equipped A330 multi-role tanker transports from 2009.

EADS officials say the delay in reaching first flight of the ARBS will have no impact on this delivery schedule and say the previous mid-2005 flight target was an internal one established before signing the deal. “Sometimes with products in development you need to choose between keeping the schedules or the capabilities,” says Rafael Acedo, EADS Casa’s senior vice-president for military transport aircraft programmes. “When we started to run the boom programme we decided to maintain a state-of-the-art boom and to implement all the technical steps required to enter a market in which we are newcomers. We cannot afford to be second.” The ARBS incorporates a quadruplex fly-by-wire system and a three-dimensional imaging system for the boom operator.

Beyond delivering services to the RAAF, the main target of the current programme is to meet a requirement to replace part of the US Air Force’s fleet of Boeing KC-135 tankers. A draft request for proposals is expected to be released early this year, with a contract award likely to follow around mid-2007.

A Rand analysis of alternatives has put forward a variety of derivatives of Airbus and Boeing commercial products as potential solutions, but Acedo says: “We don’t see anything coming from the competition [Boeing] that will prevent us from going with the A330. It is a superior tanker”. The company is promoting a KC-30 derivative of the widebody twin in conjunction with US prime contractor Northrop Grumman.

The A330 is also the platform selected to meet the UK’s Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft requirement – a programme that continues to move towards a contract signature – and forms the basis of proposals to meet AAR requirements in France, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. “Penetration in the market is very much dependent on the US campaign, as the fleet of tankers in the USA is 80% of the fleet of tankers in the world,” says Acedo, who expects EADS products to achieve a more than 50% AAR market share in the rest of the world.

Noting its success in winning the Australian deal, Francisco Fernandez Sainz, president of EADS in Spain and head of its Military Transport Aircraft division, says: “It is a big step just to be considered a player in a market where for years everybody has just been considering US products. Australia gave us credibility and six months later the UK gave us preferred bidder status. We’re now thought of as grown-ups.”


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