Omega Air expects both growth, competition for US commercial air refuelling services

06 March 2020

An Omega Air DC-10 (left) refuels an F-35B. The company expects the market for commercial aerial refueling services to grow as the US Air Force wants to reduce its tanker fleet, but an expert warns of high barriers to entry and unpredictable procurement signals. Source: Omega Air Refueling Services

Key Points

  • Omega Air Refueling Services expects demand for its services to grow as the US Air Force wants to reduce its tanker fleet
  • The company expects competitors to enter this market but an expert warns of flat budget predictions and high barriers to entry

The world's only provider of commercial aerial refueling services expects both the market and competition to provide aerial refueling services to the Pentagon to grow as the US Air Force (USAF) plans to reduce its aerial refueling tanker fleet.

Tom Swiderek, Omega Air president, told Jane's on 3 March that the USAF has been discussing a requirement of between 5,000 and 20,000 flying hours per year and a programme value of about USD500 million per year. Air Mobility Command (AMC) held an industry day on 17 December and roughly 40 participants and 14 companies attended to discuss contracting boom-type air-to-air refuelling, according to a service statement.

"The USAF, in its fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget request, proposed a total fleet of 493 platforms, reducing its total tanker fleet by 13 aircraft. The active USAF would reduce its McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender capacity from 56 to 40 aircraft and cut its Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker fleet from 167 to 159 aircraft while increasing its Boeing KC-46A Pegasus inventory from 40 to 44 aircraft.

The Air National Guard (ANG) would maintain 176 aircraft, the same number of tankers it had in FY 2021: 164 KC-135s and 12 KC-46s. The Air Force Reserves wants to add its first 12 KC-46s into its fleet while reducing its KC-135 fleet from 67 to 62 platforms. This would give it 74 total tankers. The reserves do not operate any KC-10s. A capability gap could develop as the USAF has more demand for aerial refuelling services than it current fleet can provide.

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