Coronavirus Delays European Tanker Force Training

Credit: Airbus

The first of eight Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transports (MRTT) planned for Europe’s Multinational Multirole Tanker Transport Unit (MMU) will be delivered to the Netherlands next month, but crew training is being delayed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The aircraft is due to be formally handed over at the MMU’s main operating base of Eindhoven in mid-June, Dutch officials have told Aerospace DAILY.

Delivery had been expected in May but has been delayed, according to the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) organization that will manage the fleet, because of COVID-19. 

Crew training has been impacted by travel restrictions, NSPA says, but the first batch of pilots and technicians have been fully trained and will undergo recurring training prior to the delivery. 

“The MMF project plan is making steady progress despite the current health crisis pandemic and deliveries will follow the initial schedule with only a limited delay,” NSPA said in a press release.

Training for crew and future pilots is scheduled to start again shortly at the Airbus training center in Seville, Spain, NSPA notes.

The MMU is currently envisioned to operate eight A330 MRTTs from Eindhoven and a forward operating base, Cologne-Wahn, in Germany on behalf of the six nations invested in the program. They currently include Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway. The MMU will be staffed by personnel from each of the participating nations and will fly a mix of aerial refueling, strategic transports and aeromedical evacuation flights. 

The MMU is based on a pooling and sharing agreement, with each nation buying a set number of flying hours per year. Germany is currently the largest contributor with a share of 5,500 hr. a year. 

The Netherlands, which has led the program, will take up 2,000 hr. a year. Neighboring Belgium has signed for 1,000 hr., Luxembourg 200 hr. and Norway and Czech Republic will take 100 hr. a year each.

According to the NSPA, the first two aircraft will be delivered during the summer and will support the training of crews to make the unit operational. 

First operational tasks are expected to take place by year’s end. 

A third aircraft will arrive in October and the fourth in early 2021. The fifth aircraft, a green A330, was flown from Toulouse to Airbus Defense and Space’s facilities in Getafe, Spain, near Madrid, earlier this month to begin the MRTT conversion process. The last MRTT is due to arrive in 2024.

As reported by Aerospace DAILY earlier this month, Airbus is negotiating a contract amendment to develop a boomless capability for the MMU’s A330s that would allow the refueling boom system to be removed from the aircraft to support VIP and aeromedical flights. Discussions regarding a ninth aircraft for the fleet are also underway. 

NSPA says the initiative remains open to new partners and “is expected to grow in the near future.” 

The organization is also “actively” seeking cooperation with other MRTT operators from around the world.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.