RAF Voyager has begun its new operational role in support of the Afghanistan air bridge, completing its first flight into theatre on 8th December.
Marking a significant step forward in operational capability, the sortie marks the start of Voyager’s new role in support of the UK Armed Forces drawdown, which will see all UK forces in a combat role leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Operated by Nos 10 and 101 Squadron and supported by AirTanker, the new service will operate three times per week flying between RAF Brize Norton, Akrotiri and Camp Bastion.
Wing Commander Ronnie Trasler, Commanding Officer, No 101 Squadron, said: “Voyager has performed its air transport role with great reliability. Our new role both in support of the Afghanistan air bridge and for the forthcoming drawdown, is a further development of the aircraft’s operational capability, placing it in a new operational environment.
“Most importantly, it allows us to bring those returning from Afghanistan back with increased levels of reliability and comfort, something which will make that return journey home that little bit more relaxing.”
Provided by AirTanker, the Voyager Programme will see a core fleet of nine Voyager aircraft delivered to the RAF with capability rights on a further five. Operated in a military capacity by No.s 10 and 101 Squadrons, the service is underpinned by AirTanker, which sustains their safe and reliable operation through its engineering, flight operations and training services.
Able to carry up to 291 passengers with a cargo capability of up to 8 NATO pallets and up to 43 tonnes, the aircraft provides new levels of passenger comfort. This includes a single class cabin with a roomy 34 inch seat pitch and on-board entertainment.
A fully certified and militarily-converted Airbus A330-200 Multi-Role Strategic Transport Tanker (MRTT), the aircraft are able to perform this transport role alongside air-to-air refuelling and aeromedical evacuation capabilities to deliver new operational and tactical reach to the RAF.
With five aircraft (2x two-point tankers and 3x three-point capable tankers) now flying on the Military Aircraft Register, aircraft deliveries resume in early 2014.
Since the start of air transport operations in April 2012, these aircraft have together clocked more than 5,400 hours, flying more than 1,500 sectors, carrying more than 110,000 passengers and 6,300 tonnes plus of freight.
AirTanker also operates a sixth aircraft on the Civil Aircraft Register as part of the programme. Exclusively available to the MOD, this is flown by a civilian crew in support of UK Armed forces as a ‘charter service’.
Phill Blundell, CEO, AirTanker said: “The commencement of the Afghanistan Air bridge is a significant achievement for the Voyager Programme and for all those who have worked exceptionally hard to make it happen.
“The air transport programme is delivering exception levels of reliability – in excess of 98 per cent aircraft availability - while having secured the go-ahead to begin air-to-air refuelling with Tornado in May and Typhoon in June, progress is also being made in the AAR programme.”
He concluded: “There is still much to do but we are moving very much in the right direction.”