Airbus Hands Over First A330 for NATO Force

 - June 30, 2020, 5:03 AM
Carrying a Dutch roundel in addition to the MMF badge, the first A330 MRTT for the fleet undertakes a pre-delivery test flight at Getafe. The aircraft now carries the Netherlands military serial of T-055. (Photo: Airbus)

NATO’s Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet (MMF) has accepted the first of its eight Airbus A330 MRTTs in a June 29 ceremony held at the Airbus Defence and Space Getafe facility near Madrid, where the MRTT conversion from “green” A330 airliners is accomplished. On the following day the aircraft was delivered to its operational base at Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

“The delivery of the first MMF aircraft marks a key milestone of the MMF acquisition contract managed by OCCAR," said Matteo Bisceglia, director of the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR). “OCCAR is proud to have delivered this aircraft to the customer on time without any shortfalls in performance or over cost. Key points for this success are the MMF nations’ trust in the ability of NSPA and OCCAR to efficiently manage the program, the excellent cooperation with the EU, and the willingness to succeed of the experienced MMF team.”

The MMF program was first mooted by the European Defence Agency in 2012 as a means of providing a significant tanker/transport/medevac capability within NATO, including for nations without the means or requirements to justify a national fleet. Funding and personnel are provided by participating nations, with ownership of the aircraft held by NATO. The NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) manages the overall program, with support from OCCAR, which acts as the contract-executing agent during the acquisition phase and the first two years of the initial in-service support phase. Headquartered at Capellen in Luxembourg, the NSPA will oversee ongoing life-cycle management.

MMF participating nations have grown from the initial pair of the Netherlands and Luxembourg, which formally launched the program in 2016, to include Germany and Norway from 2017, Belgium (February 2018), and the Czech Republic (October 2019). The MMF aircraft will be operated by the Multinational MRTT Unit (MMU), with five of the aircraft based at the main operating base at Eindhoven, and three at the forward operating base at Köln-Wahn in Germany, which serves as the international airport for Cologne and Bonn. One of the MMU’s commitments is medical evacuation, and a single aircraft configured for this role will be maintained on a 24/7 alert at Köln-Wahn from the end of 2021.

The fleet size of eight A330 MRTTs, and the funding share, has been established based on the annual usage rates required by the participants. The MMF initially began with an order for two aircraft but has grown as new members joined, five being ordered following the addition of Germany and Norway. The eighth aircraft was added in 2018 when Belgium signed up.

With an annual share of 5,500 hours, Germany is the largest contributor, followed by the Netherlands with 2,000 hours and Belgium with 1,000. Luxembourg is taking 200 hours, while Norway and the Czech Republic have 100 each. The total annual requirement is 8,900 hours or just over 1,100 hours per aircraft.

The second A330 MRTT for the MMF is ready to be handed over, while the third and fourth are undergoing conversion in the Getafe hangar. Delivery of the third is slated for October and that of the fourth for early 2021. The fifth aircraft was delivered in green state from Toulouse to Getafe in May. All are due to be delivered by 2024.

Training of initial flight crew and maintainers has been undertaken at the Airbus training center in Sevilla, Spain, where the instruction of further crews is to start shortly following a delay caused by the Covid-19 crisis. Training missions will continue at Eindhoven, but by the end of the year, the MMU’s aircraft are due to have started flying operational missions.

NATO has stated that the MMF initiative is still open to new partners, which could result in further procurement. The success of the program could also serve as a model for further joint procurement across the alliance, notably for that of new maritime patrol aircraft.