As we move closer towards the introduction to service of the future strategic tanker aircraft (FSTA) late next year, all major milestones for the development of the FSTA service by AirTanker Services (ATrS) have been met since the contract was signed two years ago. This important programme will provide the RAF with a safe, reliable and efficient air transport and air-to-air refuelling service over 24 years, using 14 new, specially converted A330-200 aircraft.

ATrS is responsible for developing and delivering the support elements of the service such as the infrastructure, maintenance, training, ground and flight operations, which are all progressing well. Two years after the FSTA contract was signed (27 March 2008), the programme remains on schedule and preparation continues for the delivery of the first aircraft to the Royal Air Force (RAF) next year.

Construction of the new, state-of-the-art main operating base at RAF Brize Norton continues to plan and will finish early next year. The exterior work on the modern two-bay hangar and support building was completed at the end of last year and the interior fit out is well underway. Building work on the training centre is also moving on rapidly with the first milestone completed seven weeks ahead of schedule (on 10 March 2010) in spite of the adverse weather conditions at the beginning of the year.

ATrS has also focused efforts on building a highly experienced and capable team to deliver the FSTA service. Recruitment will continue at pace throughout this year and next as ATrS looks to find the first sponsored reservist pilots and to increase the engineering and ground operations teams. Once fully operational, the FSTA service will employ around 500 personnel with a 60:40 split between military and civilian.

Another key priority is the work towards gaining relevant licences and approvals to enable the service to operate. This involves developing the right processes and procedures to meet military and civil aviation requirements, ensuring that the service is safe and compliant.

The aircraft development programme, run by Airbus Military, is also making good progress. In July 2009, the first A330-200 aircraft was delivered from the Airbus assembly line in Toulouse to the FSTA prototype conversion facility in Getafe, near Madrid. Conversion work is well underway and as of 25 February 2010, both aircraft were back on wheels with the first phase of activity complete. Further conversion and testing will now take place before the first test flight in military configuration is scheduled for later this year.

Talking about the progress made so far, Dave Mitchard, managing director of ATrS, said, “FSTA is an ambitious programme with many elements needing to come together in order to create a safe, efficient and reliable air transport and air to air refuelling service for the RAF. Two years on from contract signature, I am delighted that the programme remains on track and I am confident that we will continue to meet the milestones set for the coming year.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved in making this happen so far, from ATrS staff and sub-contractors through to the Ministry of Defence’s project team and RAF personnel at Brize Norton and beyond. It is down to a lot of hard work, enthusiasm and commitment to deliver results from all concerned, which has been supported by the strong partnerships that have developed over the last two years.”

“This programme is about combining best practice from civil aviation with RAF operational expertise and military ethos to create a most efficient and effective service solution for the RAF. At ATrS, our vision is to be recognised as the best service provider to the RAF and I believe that getting the development and planning work right now will go a long way towards to helping achieve this.”