The British consortium which provides Airbus A330 inflight refueling tankers for the Royal Air Force has leased one of the aircraft for holiday flight duties with Thomas Cook Airlines. (Thomas Cook)
LONDON — The British consortium which provides Airbus A330 inflight refueling tankers for the Royal Air Force has leased one of the aircraft for holiday flight duties with Thomas Cook Airlines.
AirTanker, a consortium led by the Airbus Group, has agreed in principle to lease one of the aircraft to fly on the holiday airlines transatlantic routes between the UK and the USA and Mexico.
The lease starts May 2015 and is set to run for three years. Thomas Cook said in a statement that it may extend the deal in the future.
The A330 won’t be allowed to fly to Cuba and certain other restricted destinations, and all military kits will be taken off the aircraft, including the defensive aid suite. Apertures for sensitive military equipment will be covered with blanks for security reasons.
The Ministry of Defence struck a deal with AirTanker in 2008 to provide 14 A330-200’s in a £12 billion private finance initiative arrangement running until 2035.
The consortium, which also includes Cobham, Rolls-Royce, Thales and Babcock, own the aircraft, and provide training and maintenance support from a base at RAF Brize Norton in southern England.
Nine of the aircraft will form the core fleet for the RAF with the remainder being available for lease on the commercial or military markets.
The non-core aircraft, known as the Voyager in RAF use, can be recalled at short notice for surge operations by the military.
Dave Mitchard, the managing director of AirTanker Services said the deal represented "a first in civil aircraft leasing.”
The final aircraft in the core fleet was delivered recently — making eight aircraft available for inflight refuelling duties under the military aircraft register, and one machine retained on the civilian register and operated by AirTanker crews for air-bridge duties to the Falklands and elsewhere.
The deal will see Thomas Cook provide some crews for the air-bridging operations. Core inflight refuelling operations are conducted with RAF crews.
The final aircraft in the fleet is scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2016.
The Airbus A330 inflight refuelling aircraft has also been sold to Australia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The company’s military aircraft arm is also in final contract negotiations with France, India and Qatar.