LONDON — Three European nations plan are to pool their resources and purchase Airbus A330 multirole tanker transport aircraft for operations starting in 2019.

The Netherlands, Poland and Norway are preparing to open negotiations with Airbus for a fleet of new aircraft, the European Defence Agency (EDA) announced on Friday Dec 19.

The deal would If the deal goes ahead, it will help close a gap in European tanking capability most recently illustrated by the 2011 NATO mission against the Libyan regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

The selection of Airbus for negotiations follows a request for information earlier this year from the European aerospace company and rival air tanker supplier Boeing, with the 767.

The three nations have agreed to create a NATO Support Agency partnership to run the program and has tasked OCCAR, the European collaborative defense equipment management organization, to open negotiations with Airbus.

A spokesman WITH WHOM? EDA? said they hope negotiations will it was hoped negotiations would be finalized with Airbus in 2016.

Industry executives said the three nations have given themselves a "very challenging" timeline to move from completion of negotiations to the start of operations, probably initially in the transport role.

The new European fleet will be equipped with a rigid boom as well as underwing refueling pods.

A minimum of four airframes are expected to be purchased, although the final number depends on the cost of the airframes and whether other European nations opt to join the program.

Ten European Union states, led by the Dutch, signed a letter of intent in November, 2012 to consider acquiring new multi-role aircraft.

Belgium, France, Spain, Hungary and Portugal were amongst the other nations that who signed the letter LOI alongside the three nations now pushing ahead with the program.

The EDA spokesman said at the moment the assumption is the pooled aircraft will be based at the Dutch Air Force base at Eindhoven, where other European airlift operations are sited.

France recently signed a deal with Airbus to purchase 12 A330 planes MRTT's for delivery starting 2018 to replace a fleet of aging US aircraft.

Britain also operates a fleet of A330's through a private finance initiative arrangement with the Airbus-led AirTanker consortium.

Email: achuter@defensenews.com.

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