The first Airbus A330 future strategic tanker aircraft (FSTA) for the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) made its first flight after conversion on September 13. Three days later, the British legislature published a report that heavily criticized the $16 billion-plus procurement of the RAF’s new tankers via a private finance initiative (PFI). Adding to earlier adverse judgements, the new report concluded, “PFI works best where activities and demand are predictable. This is clearly not the case for FSTA.” The report is a strong warning to other countries not to follow the UK example. “PFI is not a suitable procurement route for such important military capabilities,” it said.
The first of 14 aircraft is due for delivery at the end of next year as scheduled. But the UK Ministry of Defence is still evaluating whether the FSTA can fly troops into high-threat locations such as Afghanistan. The aircraft are fitted with a defensive aids system, but the FSTA contract did not specify cockpit armor protection or a fuel tank inerting system. In the meantime, the RAF has been obliged to modify and extend the service life of its aging Tristar passenger/tanker aircraft, at a cost of $35 million.