AirTanker and TTSC take operational experience on board as bid deadline approaches

Lessons emerging from the UK Royal Air Force's in-flight refuelling operations in the war in Afghanistan are influencing the two competitors bidding for the UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA).

Meanwhile, the date for the submission of best and final offers has slipped back from last week to the end of next month.

FSTA is to be funded as a private finance initiative (PFI), in which a contractor will be chosen to provide a service. The UK Ministry of Defence says it intends to continue seeking a PFI if it "remains the best value money solution".

The Defence Procurement Agency (DPA) says the delay is because "negotiations continue to ensure a high quality PFI can be provided throughout the [27 years] of the contract."


The DPA says it is reducing programme risk before the downselect, to "give the consortia the best information to present to the banks".

The agency adds that it plans a downselect at year-end, with a contract signature next year.

Bidding for FSTA are AirTanker, comprising Cobham's FR Aviation, EADS, Haliburton KBR (formerly Brown & Root), Rolls-Royce and Thales offering new Airbus A330s; while Tanker Transport Support Company (TTSC), the BAE Systems, Boeing, Serco and Spectrum Capital venture, is offering ex-British Airways Boeing 767s.

According to a programme source, one Afghanistan war lesson is that "we've never done anything like this before, and the contract underpinning FSTA therefore has to be robust to accept changes [that are needed during a conflict]. Flexibility is the key to air power, and to a successful PFI."

Third-party revenue will be a major element of the FSTA programme (Flight International, 11-17 December). Keith Archer-Jones, TTSC bid director, says there is alot of interest in the 767 in the freight and express-parcels markets. Leasing TTSC aircraft would "give capacity without ownership, and is useful during recession".

He says, however, that it is unlikely that aircraft will fly with the RAF during the day, and as a freighter at night.

AirTanker marketing director Tim MacMahon says the charter market is showing interest in the consortium's A330s, with a UK-based charter airline believed to be close to signing a contract for the aircraft.

Following the 11 September attacks, the commercial aircraft market has suffered, which could allow AirTanker to take over manufacturer slots from airlines that wish to defer orders, says MacMahon.

Source: Flight International