The AirTanker consortium responsible for delivering 14 A330 Voyager tanker transports to the UK Royal Air Force has dropped a major domestic industrial element of the deal to safeguard its delivery schedule for the type.

Two of the fleet have already undergone conversion at Airbus Military's Getafe plant in Madrid and original plans called for the remaining 12 to be modified by Cobham Aviation Services at Bournemouth airport in Dorset.

Aircraft three and four are currently in the company's "Hangar 12" at the site, with the first of these having originally been targeted for completion by late August. However in late May, Airbus Military revealed the fifth Voyager was to be modified in Getafe, with the action "to secure the delivery schedule on the programme".

Confirming the transition plan in a 22 June statement, Cobham says: "Airbus Military and Cobham Aviation Services have agreed that the remaining UK Voyager aircraft will now be converted in Spain." Having the A330s next to Airbus Military's design office for the multi-role tanker transport will "greatly improve efficiency and shorten the supply chain", it adds.

 Voyager Bournemouth - Cobham Aviation Services

Cobham Aviation Services

The programme's third A330 arrived in the UK in August 2011

"We are putting all our focus and effort toward delivering aircraft three and four by the end of this year," says Cobham.

AirTanker says the decision follows "an extensive internal review", reached by mutual consent. "This is to ensure the timely delivery of the global air-to-air refuelling and air transport capability to the UK Ministry of Defence," it adds.

"It is a measure of our strength that the consortium members most immediately affected by this move - Cobham and Airbus Military - have mutually recognised that it is the best way of meeting their own commitments," says AirTanker chief executive Phill Blundell.

A consortium member for the AirTanker-delivered Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft private finance initiative, Cobham says "there have been no technical issues with the conversion process" in Bournemouth. It expects to encounter "no material financial impact as a result of this change", it adds.

One Voyager is in operational use, flying air transport tasks from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. Another is supporting air-to-air refuelling trials from Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, as AirTanker and Cobham work to address a fuel-venting issue which has delayed the work so far.

The RAF will retire its last Vickers VC10 tankers in March 2013, with its Lockheed TriStar tanker/transports due to leave use late the same year.

Source: Flight International