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RAF Tanker Program Moves Forward: The British Ministry of Defence signed a 27-year, private-finance-initiative contract with the AirTanker industry consortium March 27 for the provision of 14 Airbus A330-200 tanker aircraft that will enter service in 2011 to meet the RAF’s Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft requirement. “This is a very welcome announcement,” RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy, Chief of the Air Staff, said in the MOD’s March 27 statement. AirTanker will own and support the tankers, providing air refueling and air transport services to the RAF. The new aircraft will replace the RAF’s nine TriStar and 19 VC-10 tankers. “The Airbus A330 FSTA fleet will deliver unrivalled levels of capability, reliability, flexibility and economy to the UK armed forces,” said Phil Blundell, CEO of AirTanker, in the company’s March 27 release. AirTanker comprises Cobham, EADS, Rolls-Royce, Thales UK, and VT Group. The MOD chose it as the preferred bidder for FSTA in February 2005 over a BAE Systems-Boeing team that offered the KC-767 tanker. It has taken this long to get the private financing assembled to make the deal possible. The A330 airframe was also chosen by the US Air Force Feb. 29 over the KC-767 in the KC-X tanker contest.