UK Defence Secretary George Robertson visited Farnborough yesterday as it emerged that the Royal Air Force is looking to replace its 35 ageing air refuelling tanker aircraft under a private finance initiative (PFI), possibly worth more than $1.5 billion.

Robertson announced that this could be the biggest PFI ever attempted by the Ministry of Defence. "I see no reason why it shouldn't be successful," he says.

The RAF is looking to replace its 24 VC-10 and nine Tristar aircraft and wants "innovative" proposals from industry for a 20 year fixed contract. The MOD today requested industry to come up with ideas by next year.

MOD sources say it is too soon to say if this could involve civilian contractor aircrews taking over RAF tanker missions.

Other ways the RAF could defray the huge capital costs of buying the tanker aircraft could be through a leaseback type of arrangement. "We want the capability and we would have to see what industry comes up with," says the MOD. "We are looking to buy a service."

Robertson says it would have been nice for the contract for the first production batch of Eurofighters to be signed this week at Farnborough but he expects it to be done in the near future.

Source: Flight Daily News