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ONS report points to increased surge in UK aerial refuelling requirement

Frequent use of the five surge Voyager tankers has caused the ONS to include them in the wider inventory of 14 aircraft in its latest report. (Crown Copyright)

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is increasingly calling on the ‘surge' fleet of AirTanker-owned Voyager aircraft to help fulfil a heightened demand for aerial refuelling, Janes was told on 21 September.

A spokesperson for the ministry said that “frequent use” of the five ‘surge' aircraft had resulted in their being included by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the overall fleet number of 14 Voyagers in its UK armed forces equipment and formations 2023 report published on the same day.

Under the terms of the 27-year Private Finance Initiative (PFI) agreement that was signed under the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) programme in 2008, AirTanker operates 14 Voyager aircraft on behalf of the MoD. Of these, nine are typically held in the core fleet, with five available to third parties when not required for operations.

In the ONS report, the Voyager fleet is given as nine aircraft from 2016 (the start date for the report) through to 2021. In 2022 the fleet is given as 10 aircraft, while in 2023 it is 14 aircraft.

“The core fleet of Voyager remains at nine aircraft (no change), [while] the total number of aircraft in the Voyager fleet is 14,” the MoD said. “The additional five aircraft [listed in the inventory in the ONS report] are part of the surge fleet and are used when additional capacity is required. As previously in 2022, the statistics were adjusted as the additional aircraft have been used frequently.”

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