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Fill er up.........

Air Tanker Services provides Airbus A330 MRTT tanker aircraft to the Royal Air Force for aerial refueling and for the transportation of bulk fuel to various site globally. The aircraft known as “Voyager” fulfill a vital role for the military and enable the wheels to remain “greased” and operations to continue seamlessly.

Image by Dan Foster

A private UK charter airline, AirTanker was tasked with providing up to 14 A330’s for use by the RAF, nine of these classed as ‘core fleet’ and five as #non-core’ aircraft. The nine while each has a civilian registration, operate under a military registration and the other five retain a civil listing and are available for charter by other third parties if required. All except two are capable of carrying between 291 and 327 passengers when not performing fueling duties and one is preserved for VIP transport, in a 158 seat configuration.

While Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland is more likely a location for visits by air tankers, either RAF, USAF, Canadian, Dutch or French, on the special occasion that one of these unusual aircraft arrives at Dublin, a big deal it certainly is. Not too long ago, April 16th to be exact, AirTanker A330-243 G-VYGJ made its presence felt as it touched down at the capitals International Airport at 17:05, in bound from its home – RAF Brize Norton – in Oxfordshire. This was no stealth approach for the A330, it was very much expected.

One of the five ‘civilian’ tankers previously mentioned, being a 2014-built aircraft, it’s the oldest of that sub-group and its owners felt it was time for an external make-over. Ireland has an international reputation for painting planes, and so G-VYGJ would receive its renewed “battleship grey” at Eirtech Aviation.

Recently, G-VYGJ has been spending its time between Brize Norton and RAF Mount Pleasant on the Falkland Islands. Air Tanker Services also holds a UK CAA Type A Operating Licence which permits the airline to carry passengers, cargo and mail on aircraft with more than 20 seats. AirTanker provides twice weekly flights to the Falklands for military personnel and supplies and for a time, fare paying passengers were also allowed to travel.

The ultra-long haul flight of approximately 7,000 nautical miles, previously saw the A330 depart the UK, stopping off at Ascension Island for refueling but due to the deterioration of the runway surface a decision was made to change the ‘tech-stop’ to Blaise Diagne International Airport – Senegal.

The out-bound flight from the UK can take in the region of 16+ hours. Brize Norton – Blaise Diagne 6hrs 06mins and Blaise Diagne – RAF Mount Pleasant Falklands 10hrs 13mins on average. However, in June 2020, sistership G-VYGM, a modified A330-200 performed a non-stop mammoth flight from RAF Brize Norton to RAF Mount Pleasant titled the South Atlantic Airbridge, in 15hrs 09mins, a record time for non-stop flight between the two locations. After a brief time on the ground the aircraft returned to the UK also without a stop-off and set another record time between the two airports of 13hrs 22mins for the 6,948 n-miles. The previous record time for the lengthy sector was set by RAF crews on board a VC-10 in 1987. Ah the VC-10, what a classic and much-loved airliner.

Image by Matthias Schichta

One A330 within the AirTanker fleet stands out from the others though. Not so much fuel-carrying as VIP-ferrying. It’s the posh one of the AirTanker fleet, the one selected for the most up-market sorties. In a way it’s the successor to the BAe-146 Statesman operated by the RAF but on a much grander scale. The stately-home of aircraft at the disposal of senior UK Government Ministers and members of the Royal Family along with high-ranking Military Officials when required.

Originally G-VYGG but now using registration ZZ336, this A330-200 most certainly turns heads. Configured with 58 Business Class and 100 Economy Class seats, this “Voyager” member received significant maintenance at Cambridge early in 2020 and was repainted in a striking new livery primed to represent the UK on the International Stage. The off-white background colour sets the rest of the canvas for the ‘main event’, the flag tail.

Image by Athanasios Ozrefanidis

After 13 days or so, our Dublin ‘guest’ was rolled out of the paint hangar and parked on Stand 317 to air its new Air Force coat of paint. Same-old but appearing much sharper in its new skin. Departure came the following day, Friday 30th as G-VYGJ lit the fuse on its twin Rolls-Royce turbofans and powered down RW10R, lifting into the air at 13:26 for its short flight back to Brize Norton. Take the short ones while you can, won’t be long before it’s the big-league again with journeys to the end of the earth – Falklands here we come………….

Images by Dan Foster, Matthias Schichta & Athanasios Ozrefanidis


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