The UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft contest has seen further consolidation with the teaming of Boeing-BAE Systems and Strategic Support Management (SSM).

The battle is now a straight fight between this new entity and the AirTanker consortium, formed this year by combining Rolls-Royce's AirReach bid with the Eurotanker grouping of Cobham subsidiary FR Aviation, Brown & Root, EADS Airbus and Thales Defence.

Industry sources say SSM, a Serco and Spectrum Capital joint venture, has joined the Boeing-BAE team, which is offering a service using ex-British Airways Boeing 767s. AirTanker is offering new Airbus A330s.

At stake is a 30-year, £13 billion ($18 billion) private finance initiative deal to supply a tanker service to the Royal Air Force. The need, say industry sources, is for 10 aerial tankers with the ability to increase to 22-25 aircraft. Excess capacity will be made available to commercial or military third parties.

Bids are to be handed over on3 July, with a decision on whether to proceed with the programme expected in mid-2002. A contract is to be placed in 2003 with a 2007/9 in-service date, although this may be brought forward as the RAF's elderly BAC VC10s are already being withdrawn from service.

The protagonists argue that used aircraft are cheaper to operate, while new aircraft are better suited to the 30-year FSTA lifespan.

Source: Flight International