Tanker Delivery Further Uncertainty

There is continuing uncertainty as to when the RAAF’s long awaited Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft will be delivered. From a technical viewpoint, two of the modified A-330s have been ready to be transferred since October last year but delays have occurred because of problems with the provision of ancillary items - especially documentation – and more recently issues concerned with the refueling boom. A Departmental spokesperson explained:

6th Apr 2011


 MRTT

 Tanker delivery further uncertainty


There is continuing uncertainty as to when the RAAF’s long awaited Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft will be delivered. From a technical viewpoint, two of the modified A-330s have been ready to be transferred since October last year but delays have occurred because of problems with the provision of ancillary items - especially documentation – and more recently issues concerned with the refueling boom. A Departmental spokesperson explained:
“Airbus Military is working to deliver the relevant documentation to Defence as soon as possible. Defence expects an interim contract acceptance of the first two aircraft in the coming months.

(The) Commonwealth is not yet satisfied with the operation of the MRTT boom to meet its fully intended operational role. Airbus Military is working with the Spanish military certification authority (INTA) to implement essential changes to the boom system and operating procedures following the serious incident in January 2011 where the boom separated from the aircraft and was lost at sea during a training flight with Portuguese F-16s. INTA has withdrawn the Technical Certificate for the boom following the serious incident with the Portuguese F-16. We are aware that Airbus Military is working closely with INTA to identify and implement essential changes to the system and operating procedures for re-issue of the Technical Certificate.

Defence anticipates that the third and fourth aircraft (A39-004 and A39-001 respectively) will be delivered by end-2011 and the fifth and final aircraft (A39-005) will be delivered in late 2012.”

However, earlier in the month the Department was more relaxed, saying on March 11:
“Although Airbus Military has had the first two KC-30A tankers ready for delivery since end-2010, further work is required to meet the contract conditions for acceptance of the first-of-type aircraft. These conditions require documentation that the aircraft is both certified (safe to operate) and qualified (complies with the contract) and delivery of the full support system (training, publications and spares) to operate the aircraft in RAAF service. These elements are essential to meet stringent Defence airworthiness requirements for commencement of operation of the new tankers and to ensure that Defence has the ability to fully support the new aircraft when it enters Service.
As an outcome of meetings held during the Avalon Air show, both parties confirmed their commitment to do everything possible to ensure delivery and acceptance of the first KC-30A tanker by end-April 2011 which should enable commencement of flying in Australia under a Defence-issued Special Flight Permit during July 2011.”

Clearly, the Department is more concerned about the status of the boom than was previously the case because it did not rate a mention in the earlier statement. Similarly, Airbus Military have previously expressed the view that there are no technical issues outstanding with the boom – or anything else, for that matter.
There is a world of difference between acceptance at the end of April and “interim contract acceptance…” in the coming months.

APDR has previously reported on the January boom incident referred to which – from all available information – was serious but was not of a nature that would delay delivery. Indeed it was understood that the principle cause was euphemistically called “human factors” associated with the operation of the boom, which is code for operator error. Inquiries were always difficult because the accident evaluation team – which includes representatives from the RAAF – has not released the official findings.

Airbus Military are maintaining a positive view of the status of the programme, saying:

"The aircraft will be fully operational at time of delivery which should be in the not too distant future.

The INTA Technical Certificate has not been withdrawn. Some lessons were learned from the January F16 incident and Full Certification of the boom operation was temporarily suspended while some minor modifications are defined and implemented prior to delivery of the aircraft. This is only natural after such an incident in order to continuously improve our products. Full Certification of the boom operation will be restored by the time of delivery.”

There is still an unanswered question as to why Defence has apparently changed their guardedly optimistic view of delivery in late April to something considerably more vague. The MRTTs will transform the way RAAF operates, particularly because of the extraordinary refueling capabilities of the aircraft. The ability of the aircraft to transport troops and equipment – especially to the Middle East Area of Operations – is also significant, especially in circumstances where the Commonwealth is paying a great deal of money to commercial operators to provide this function.

It should also be remembered that despite whatever misgivings might exist about the boom following the refueling incident, of greater importance to the RAAF is the hose-and-drogue system mounted on the MRTT’s wings which has been performing flawlessly.
 

APDR at a glance