LONDON — AirTanker, the company that owns and operates the U.K. Royal Air Force’s (RAF) fleet of Airbus A330 Voyager multi-role tanker transport aircraft, has received its 180-min. Extended Operations (Etops) clearance.

The clearance, received from the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority on June 28, means that the company’s civil-registered aircraft can conduct long-range, over-water operations.

The clearance is also part of the company’s preparations to begin operations to the Falkland Islands via Ascension Island starting in fall 2013, ending the RAF’s reliance on third-party charter operators flying the route.

AirTanker is now awaiting a military Etops certification from the U.K. Military Aviation Authority (MAA) that it hopes to receive by the end of the year. The company says the approval was granted following the “implementation and successful review of enhanced procedures in the maintenance and flight crew operations.”

Crews have received additional training in the classroom and simulator, as well as a check on board Voyager.

The company is now operating six aircraft, including five tankers and a single civilian-registered A330 being used for passenger operations.

As part of the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft program, AirTanker will buy 14 Voyagers tankers to replace the RAF’s aging fleets of Vickers VC10 and Lockheed Tristar tanker transports.

The VC10 is now expected to exit service in September 2013, while the Tristar will be retired in the summer of 2014.