LONDON – The Royal Air Force’s A400M Atlas transport aircraft fleet is to be supported by Airbus Defence and Space in a £410 million ($504 million) deal announced Jan 5.
The Defence Equipment and Support arm of Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement that the contract will secure maintenance, upgrade and repair support of the planned 22-strong fleet of Airbus-built aircraft through 2026.
The work will take place at the RAF’s air transport hub at Brize Norton where a £62 million hanger capable of housing three Atlas aircraft at one go is on schedule to be fully equipped in the next few months.
The RAF fleet currently stands at 14 A400Ms following the delivery of two aircraft at the end of last year.
The fleet is scheduled to reach 22 in 2019 and be the backbone of the RAF’s air-transport capability alongside smaller numbers of Boeing C-17 and Lockheed Martin C-130J aircraft.
The deal was single-source, but a spokesman for DE&S said the long-term intention is to look at the possibility of running a competition when what is known as the Medium Term Contract (MTC) comes up for expiry.
“A competitive process would have been impractical at this time as the aircraft is still in development and the fleet size is building. The intention is to consider competing the support service when the aircraft design and fleet is mature. The MTC is subject to single source pricing regulations, which ensures transparency in pricing and that value for money for the taxpayer is balanced with providing industry with a fair return,” said the spokesman.
“The contract is for Airbus to provide the number of aircraft required for tasking, with the requirement based on the fleet size, and incentivizes sortie achievement,” he said.
The spokesman said that up until now maintenance of the RAF aircraft had been conducted under an industry-led initial support contract involving Airbus subcontracting scheduled maintenance work to the engineering arm of Flybe, the British regional airline.
“This contract was signed in October 2014 and the MTC will build on this arrangement. RAF personnel work alongside Airbus to support UK and deployed flying operations as part of a single engineering organisation,” said the DE&S spokesman.
A spokesman for Airbus said the arrangement with Flybe is ongoing and is set to expand as fleet numbers increase. “Flybe provides pure MRO (base maintenance) complementary to what DE&S announced today. Their current dedicated workforce located at Brize Norton of 22 will grow to 41 as the fleet reaches its mature level,” said the spokesman.
The MoD said the deal announced today would sustain around 200 jobs at Brize Norton. The Flybe contingent is in addition to the figures quoted, said Airbus.
The Airbus-led consortium Air Tanker also supports its fleet of A330 multi-role tanker and air-transport aircraft from facilities at Brize Norton.
Announcement of the contract follows on the heels of a deal late last year adding Spain to an Anglo-French global support service agreement managed by the European Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) to pool spares and technical support, which has been running for the past two years.
The DE&S spokesman said they expected to see the global support arrangement expanded to include most of the nations involved in the A400M program.
“The six-nation global support arrangement will encompass Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey and the UK,” he said.
Industry executives cautioned, though, that any further expansion of the global support arrangement was some way off.
Malaysia and Luxembourg have also purchased the aircraft.