07:32 GMT +321 September 2019
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    An airbus A320 of the Thomas Cook company

    Defense Cuts Mean UK Air Force Planes Rented Out to Travel Agent

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    Cuts in the UK's defense budget have forced the Royal Air Force (RAF) to hire out its brand new fleet of air-to-air refueling aircraft to travel companies such as Thomas Cook.

    Huge defense cuts were brought in by the previous government, under David Cameron, when they took control in 2010. The first thing they did was to slash the budgets of the RAF, the British Army, the Royal Navy and its other defense organizations.

    The swingeing cuts meant that only one of the two brand new aircraft carriers would be brought into service (the other one could not be scrapped as government officials discovered it would cost more to cancel the project than pay for a ship they did not want to use).

    They decommissioned the two old aircraft carriers and HMS Illustrious and scrapped the fleet vertical-take-off-and-landing Harriers that used them, leaving the UK with no aircraft carrier capability in the medium term. Worse still, the government decided to reduce the planned number of brand new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft on order for the new yet-to-be launched carriers.

    However, they hatched a plan to reduce the role of the VC-10 transport/tanker aircraft to undertake air-to-air refueling only and replace it with the new Voyager air-to-air refueling aircraft.

    RAF Switches Between Tankers and Tourism

    The Voyager aircraft flown by 10 Squadron and 101 squadrons from RAF Brize Norton in the south west of Britain are based on the Airbus A330-200.
    © Flickr / UK Ministry of Defence
    The Voyager aircraft flown by 10 Squadron and 101 squadrons from RAF Brize Norton in the south west of Britain are based on the Airbus A330-200.

    In the air-to-air refueling role, the original aircraft does not need any additional fuel tanks, because it shares the same wing as the four-engine A340, so there is a pre-strengthened location available for mounting the wing Mk32B pods.

    That makes the aircraft perfect for conversion for tour operators, like Thomas Cook. The seating in the aircraft remains roughly as it normally does for troop transport, although they will have reconfigured its cabin from the Voyager's 291-seat configuration into an all-economy, 323-seat layout.

    AirTanker — the private consortium that now runs the refueling of the UK's RAF aircraft — is due to receive the last of the new Voyager aircraft by the end of 2016, but has already signed deals to lease them out to travel operators.

    In the event of the UK suddenly having to refuel all of its jets and other aircraft in the event of a global military crisis, the company has left open the option — called the "surge" element of the Ministry of Defense's contract with AirTanker — under which it can call on non-core aircraft to be prepared for military use within 90 days.

    Dave Mitchard, managing director of AirTanker Services said: "It is a risk we are able to handle.. [but] the probability of recall is very low."

    The first Voyager entered service this month with Thomas Cook. RAF air-to-air refueling aircraft G-VYGK took-off from Manchester Airport on May 1, bound for Cancun and Punta Cana carrying happy holidaymakers.

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    Tags:
    transport aircraft, transport, troops, tourism, defense, defense industry, defense budget, aircraft, aircraft industry, military, holiday, jet, plane, British army, RAF (UK), British Defense Ministry, Michael Fallon, United Kingdom, Britain
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