Extensive use of Boeing transport prompts RAF to call for extra spares support

The UK Royal Air Force is discussing with the US Air Force an expansion of spares support for the UK's four Boeing C-17s that would enable the country to triple its utilisation of the transport to meet future operational contingencies. The move comes as the RAF finds itself exceeding planned flying hours by 60%.

After using the C-17 extensively to support operations in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq, the RAF by April had reached 10,000h of flying after only two years of service, when it had planned to be at only 6,250h. The RAF had budgeted to fly each transport 750h a year. "With the four aircraft we're routinely flying 5,000h a year, but have not paid the full investment cost," says Wing Cdr Trevor Burke, RAF C-17 support manager.

RAF utilisation of the aircraft is now approaching that of the USAF, which is roughly twice the rate originally projected. The RAF confines use of the aircraft to strategic lift, which has included transporting spare gas turbine engines for the Royal Navy, and Panavia Tornado F3 fighters to the Falkland Islands. The USAF makes wider use of the C-17 to include tactical transport, dropping paratroops and supporting special forces.

The UK plans to add three more aircrews per aircraft in addition to the 15 in place and "invest in the spares should we want to sustain a surge rate of 9,000h", adds Burke.

The extra hours will also provide more margin should London decide to lease the two-to-four extra C-17s being discussed with Boeing. A decision is expected with the release of the next defence review white paper, due in the next few months.

With the UK now two years into a seven-year lease with Boeing on the aircraft, it already expects to exercise the two one-year lease extensions in the contract. The UK also has an end-of-lease purchase option and recent Ministry of Defence statements indicate the UK may retain C-17s for lifting cargo that cannot be accommodated by the Airbus Military A400M.

Source: Flight International