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Airbus Begins MRTT Conversion of 3 Former Iberian A330 Aircraft. First Delivery is Due in 2023

The Airbus Trade Media Briefing ’22 is started in Spain, gathering senior management from Airbus Helicopters and Airbus Defence and Space (ADS) to provide a comprehensive update on the programs, products, and changes in the sector.

Date: December 12, 2022

Presentations on Military Air Systems, Eurofighter, FCAS, Airbus Helicopters, and Zephyr HAPS were held at the event, which was attended only by Defense Turkey magazine from Türkiye. Jean-Brice DUMONT, Head of Military Air Systems, shared information about the conversion processes of the A330 MRTT, which Türkiye is also evaluating to replace its KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft. Jean-Brice DUMONT, Head of Military Air Systems, explained Airbus Defence and Space’s thoughts on secondhand aircraft for MRTT conversion. “For the second hand, it is a market at the starting for us. So we worked with Spanish aircraft… and we started converting, it is just the beginning… We see the secondhand market, for the couple of years to come, as a quite promising market. Many customers are considering cheaper green aircraft for the overall cost-efficiency. They consider secondhand aircraft might not last forever, because for this you need an aircraft which is too old, and as they use A330s getting older, so it won’t last forever. We see customers, Spain as we speak and few others asking for secondhand which I think is a sort of parallel avenue to the main one we have with a new aircraft. Well at the end of the day, they converted here in Getafe. We just need a particular handover of a secondhand aircraft which is not a new aircraft with a bit of caution here…”

DUMONT also shared brief information about the world’s first 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) flight carried out with A330MRTT in November. “On the SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel) engine, we fly it, we do test flights. Well, if things went perfectly well that means you are not flight tested. So definitely, flight tests with %100 SAF gives you learnings… So what do we do, the answer can be first defined as maximum blend, %50 is the maximum blend of the civil engines. We try to demonstrate further. The other one is to defined potential design adaptations to ensure that %100 SAF flight can actually be qualified. We are not there; we have flown one flight. We have seen the consequences, we see what SAF can bring. There is nothing impossible here, it is about first max blend and then we will define our route for %100 SAF.”

In November 2021, the Spanish Ministry of Defence signed the formal order with ADS to acquire three Airbus A330 MRTT Aircraft equipped with a state-of-the-art hose & drogue refueling system and a specific MEDEVAC kit. Under the agreement, the three A330 aircraft, acquired from Iberia with a value of EUR148 Million, will be converted into military tanker transport at Getafe, Spain. The first aircraft will be delivered after 10 months; then the rest will be delivered in 9-month periods.

A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT)

Developed based on Airbus' famous A330-200 wide-body passenger aircraft, the A330 MRTT Multi Role Tanker Transport has an overall length of 58.80 m, a height of 17.40 m, and a wingspan of 60.3 m. It has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 233 tons and a maximum landing weight (MLW) of 182 tons. It has a maximum payload/cargo capacity of 45 tons and is powered by General Electric (GE) CF6-80E1A3 (320kN) or Rolls-Royce Trent 772B (316kN) engines. The A330 MRTT can carry 111 tons of fuel with the existing fuel tanks on the wings and tail. Thanks to this structural advantage, the A330 MRTT does not need any additional fuel tanks, and there is no need to modify the fuselage. The A330 MRTT can carry up to 45 tons of extra cargo in the cabin. The A330 MRTT can offload 64 tons of fuel to a receiver aircraft during a 5-hour loitering mission at over 500 nm from its take-off point.

During the MRTT conversion process, each A330-200 aircraft is installed with some 16,000 types of new components and approximately 450 new electrical wiring and harness (for a total cabling length of more than 50 km), as well as 6,000 brackets and 1,700 connectors.

Airbus delivered the first A330 MRTT in December 2009 to the Royal Australian Air Force. Since then, a total of 66 A330 MRTTs have been ordered so far by Australia, France, NATO, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom, and 54 of them have been delivered as of December 2022, achieving a combined total of more than 250,000 flight hours.

The Airbus A330MRTT RAF Voyager takes off from RAF Brize Norton for the first time powered by 100% SAF on both engines. (MoD Crown Copyright)

In November 2022, The Royal Air Force (RAF), Airbus, and other industry partners carried out the world’s first 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) flight using an in-service military aircraft on both engines, paving the way for a range of possibilities for the future of flying military aircraft. The flight was a joint endeavor between the RAF, aircraft manufacturer Airbus, the UK Ministry of Defence’s Defence Equipment and Support agency, British aircraft leasing company AirTanker and engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce, with the fuel supplied by Air bp.

Potential Candidate to Replace TurAF's Aging Tanker Fleet

The Turkish Air Force (TurAF) is also expected to replace its veteran KC-135R Stratotankers with the new generation A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) Aircraft from Airbus Defence & Space in the coming years. The A330 MRTT was one of two candidates evaluated as part of the TurAF’s need for a New Generation Tanker Aircraft. In this context, the 2nd AMFD/FASBAT Directorate wants to carry out both kit production and structural modification/modernization for the A330 MRTT Aircraft that the TurAF is expected to procure in the near future. If the A330 MRTT Project is finalized, it is planned to build a new hangar for this plane within the 2nd AMFD.

It is said that the Turkish Technic Company, which provides maintenance and repair services to the A330-200 aircraft, including their avionic systems, may also take part in the structural transformation studies. Airbus Defence & Space Company will provide the necessary technical and know-how support for the preliminary preparation, and structural transformation works to be carried out on aircraft. The subsystems to be integrated into the plane under the MRTT transformation works will also be procured from ADS. If the project is implemented, the MRTT conversion work of A330-200 aircraft will be carried out in Turkey for the first time after the UK. As may be remembered, the transformation process of the first 2 FSTA Voyager Tanker/Transport Aircraft under the Royal Air Force (RAF) Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) Program (14 aircraft in total) was carried out in Getafe, Spain, in 2009 and 2010; while the 3rd and 4th planes were converted at Cobham Aviation Services' facilities in Bournemouth, England. However, due to the delay in the process and the RAF's decommissioning of the venerable VC-10 and Tristar tanker aircraft in 2013, it was decided to transform the other 10 A330-200 aircraft also in Getafe. Last year, it was claimed that 7 second-hand A330 aircraft would be purchased from Turkish Airlines (THY) and converted to MRTT, but there has been no official development in this regard yet.

During SAHA EXPO 2022 Defence & Aerospace Exhibition, Airbus Defence and Space (ADS) Vice President & Head of Sales Southern Europe and Israel, Bruno LAMARQUE, shared information about the current status of A330 MRTT discussions with Türkiye. "We are still hoping. We submitted a proposal and had discussions, but for the moment, there is no progress made, and we are waiting. We believe this aircraft is the perfect aircraft for the Turkish Air force. However, we are waiting for the Turkish Ministry of Defence to come back to us so we can continue the discussion which started one year ago."