UK Defence Procurement Minister Lord Bach has confirmed that the UK defence ministry is not irrevocably committed to contractorisation to meet the Royal Air Force's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft requirement.

The ministry last month announced that the AirTanker consortium of EADS, Rolls-Royce, Thales and Cobham was the "potential preferred bidder" for the £13 billion contract, which would see AirTanker providing a pool of around 16 new-build and used Airbus A330-200s to replace the service's current 28 Vickers VC10 and Lockheed TriStar tanker/transports.

However, the language used by the ministry in favouring the AirTanker bid seemed remarkably 'soft' and industry sources at the time suggested the project could yet revert to a traditional acquisition.

Speaking after a press conference supporting British participants at Asian Aerospace, Lord Bach insisted that the defence ministry had never committed itself to following the private finance initiative (PFI) contractorisation path.

"This is a very big PFI undertaking; it's very important we get it right. We've decided that the AirTanker consortium is the best placed to come to an agreement with us, but we need to negotiate in order to make sure the agreement is workable.

"The company understand that they haven't got the contract yet, because unless we can work out a satisfactory way of conducting this PFI we have to keep the option open of going down some other avenue."

A PFI "is our preferred option, but we would never limit ourselves to that", he said.

Under the contractorisation proposal, the winner of the FSTA contract would provide aircraft for 27 years. They would be available for third-party work when not required by the RAF.

Lord Bach adds that the ministry is "at an important moment in negotiations" with its suppliers over the UK Royal Navy's planned future aircraft carriers. News reports last month indicated that the joint BAE Systems/Thales design for the 50,000t vessels would substantially exceed the £2.8 billion allocated to the project.


Source: Flight Daily News