British AirTanker Deal May Go Private
The UK government has named a European consortium as its preferred bidder for a GBP 13 billion (USD $25 billion; EUR 19 billion) contract to build refuelling and operate aircraft for the RAF, and will now move on to negotiations. The preferred AirTanker group is led by European defence giant EADS, and includes British firms Rolls-Royce and Cobham. AirTanker plans to use 15 to 20 Airbus A330-200 planes to refuel RAF fighter jets and military planes (EADS owns 80% of Airbus, and Britain’s BAE Systems owns 20%). The A330-200 has also been mentioned as a competitor to the Boeing KC-767 for the Pentagon’s controversial air-air refueling contract.
Under Britain’s public-private partnership proposal, the private sector would own and maintain the refuelling tankers on behalf of the RAF. When not in use for refuelling, the tankers would be converted to passenger planes or used for military transport purposes. This arrangement bears some similarities to Boeing’s KC-767 leasing deal that created such controversy in the US, so the impact of a successful UK deal on the Pentagon’s pending contract may be somewhat mixed. The British deal is expected to run for 27 years, with the first tanker coming into service in 2010.