AirTanker Aims To Solve European Tanker Shortage

By Tony Osborne
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
May 06, 2013
Credit: Crown Copyright

AirTanker, the company operating the U.K. Royal Air Force's (RAF) fleet of tanker-transport aircraft, has begun looking into ways to begin generating third-party revenue.

Company leaders hope to capitalize on Europe's chronic shortage of tanker aircraft by offering flying hours and capacity using their spare Airbus A330-200 Voyager tanker transports, potentially leasing them to other countries in military configuration when they are not required by the RAF.

“We are moving from a delivery phase into an operational one,” says CEO Phil Blundell. “And now we are looking at how we can deliver the best use out of the fleet of aircraft we have.”

As part of the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) program, AirTanker is buying 14 Voyagers to replace the RAF's elderly Vickers VC-10 and Lockheed TriStar tanker transports. During peacetime operations, though, not all the Voyagers will be required. Just nine of the aircraft will comprise the core fleet. The other five could be surged in the event of conflict.

During peacetime, the military equipment could be removed from the five spares, and they could be leased to charter airlines. However, AirTanker believes it would be better value to wet-lease them to other partner nations in a military configuration.

“The Defense Ministry has the benefit of these aircraft without having to pay for them to sit on the tarmac,” Blundell says. “They can be brought in to support operations at any time, if additional capacity beyond that of the core fleet is required, so it is capability without the fixed cost.”

It can take about a week to remove all the military equipment from the Voyagers, such as radio systems and refueling pods, and “blank” off the parts of the aircraft where that equipment had been connected. Therefore, AirTanker would prefer to keep the aircraft in the military configuration to reduce costs.

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