The Royal Air Force has been required to halt passenger operations with its Vickers VC10 fleet, but says the step will have no effect on its ability to support an "airbridge" between the UK and Afghanistan.

"Carriage of passengers on RAF VC10s has been temporarily suspended," the service says, while confirming that the measure was introduced on 15 January.

Justification for the move has been attributed to "an ongoing review of the RAF's air transport and communications [aircraft] fleet", says the RAF. "There are some areas where further investigation must be done to ensure that our airworthiness arrangements are at least as effective as for civilian aviation," it adds.

 VC10 Falklands - Crown Copyright
© SAC Andrew Morris/Crown Copyright

The RAF is the only remaining operator of the Rolls-Royce Conway-engined VC10, and has a 15-strong fleet, according to Flightglobal's MiliCAS database. Flown by 101 Sqn, the type is based at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, with one aircraft positioned at Mount Pleasant air base on the Falkland Islands to support air defence operations using the Eurofighter Typhoon.

The oldest of the UK's VC10s was delivered in 1966 and operations are expected to continue until around 2015. The type will be gradually replaced by the Airbus A330-200-based Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft, under a 14-aircraft private finance initiative deal with the EADS UK-led AirTanker consortium.

The FSTA fleet will also be used to replace the RAF's Lockheed TriStar tankers and transports, including those now used to fly personnel between the UK and the Middle East and Afghanistan. The first two of the new aircraft are currently receiving modifications at Airbus Military's Getafe plant near Madrid. Deliveries should start by 2011.

UK operations in Afghanistan also currently rely heavily on the provision of commercial charter flights to the Middle East region.

Source: Flight International