The Mail on Sunday recently published an odd article about the Voyager aircraft fleet, after what they called an “investigation” despite the information being public knowledge for a decade.
The outrage is in bullet point form is:
- MoD’s deal with manufacturers AirTanker allows the commercial group to make millions more by renting up to four of the unused aircraft to holiday firms
Why isn’t this a problem? Well, 14 Voyagers are in the UK’s fleet, nine are in the RAF’s ‘core’ fleet and the other five are considered ‘surge’ aircraft and are often leased to airlines when not required generating revenue and staying active rather than sitting idle.
The insightful and reliable defence commentary blog Thin Pinstriped Line covered this in great detail, the author writes:
“Firstly, there is a lack of understanding about how this deal is structured. This is not at its heart about purchasing aircraft. It is about purchasing a service – how the contractor provides that service is less important than ensuring that the contractually enforceable service is provided. In simple terms, it doesn’t matter if the contractor decided that the solution was 10 airplanes or 100 – they are the ones deciding how to provide the service they’ve agreed to deliver. How they do it is a matter for the company.
This means that for the requirements placed on them by the RAF, then at present they need nine aircraft to do this, but know that they may be required to provide an extra five, often at very short notice. This is no different to how the RAF would have operated these aircraft had it bought them outright, as any purchase would have had to consider everything from normal daily operations through to supporting airstrikes in the Middle East. The key difference though is that the RAF (and by extension the taxpayer) has to pay the cost of buying enough planes upfront and then through the life to keep meeting these targets. This was why there was a combined Tristar/VC10 force of nearly 30 aircraft, as it took that many to meet similar levels of availability, reliability and delivery as the current force of 14 A330.
When these aircraft weren’t in use, they were effectively ‘dead weight’ – they had been paid for by the taxpayer, but there was no way of getting a return on that investment. If there was no tasking for them, then they say at Brize Norton waiting for a role – deprecating in value, costing a fortune in maintenance and eating into scare defence budget funds to remain serviceable and airworthy. By contrast the Airtanker fleet only provides aircraft to meet the daily needs of the RAF which only pays for the service that it gets and uses.
The remaining five aircraft are free to be used in revenue earning operations partly because the RAF doesn’t need them right now (but may need them at very short notice), and partly because if they are leased out to Thomas Cook Airlines, then this is revenue coming in which reduces the overall cost of the bill to the taxpayer. In other words, these aircraft scandalously on hire to Thomas Cook are actively saving the taxpayer an awful lot of money, for no loss of military capability. If they’d been in service RAF aircraft then they’d have been paid for, but not have a means of recouping the cost.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said:
“Voyagers are playing a key role in protecting British airspace and the fight against Daesh, and whilst our core fleet is doing the job we need it to, we can call in the extra aircraft at short notice if we need them to help us defend the nation.
When we’re not using them, it makes sense to have them performing other roles as that reduces our costs and means they can be ready for operations quicker than if they were held in storage. This is a cost-effective deal that is delivering an outstanding service for the RAF and has met all major project milestones on time and to budget.”