FedEx is putting new life into the Boeing 767, by ordering fifty new aircraft for more than 10 billion dollar. The largest order of the type ever was confirmed both by Boeing and FedEx on Wednesday 22 July, after Bloomberg initially broke the news.
The deal is great news for Boeing, which is having much trouble getting its militarized tanker version of the same 767 built at the same plant in Everett, Washington, ready for usage. With an option for another 50 aircraft plus an earlier order included FedEx account now awaits between 105 to 155 new 767s.
The first 767-300F was delivered to FedEx in September 2013, to start renewing the fleet of 70 Boeing 757s, MD-10s, MD-11s and some Boeing 777s. The freighter can carry approximately 58 tons of cargo with intercontinental range. The 767 Freighter is used on long-haul, regional or so-called feeder markets.
South Korea has officially entered the beginning of the end of the selection process of an in-flight refuelling aircraft for its Republic of Korea Air Force. Long due and delayed many times, Seoul has officially opened the bidding contest on Tuesday 14 April 2015.
With money and interoperability with the US Air Force as important issues the three candidates for the four tanker aircraft are the Airbus A330 MRTT, the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus and the Israeli Aerospace Industries Boeing 767-300ER MMTT solution. Two of the four aircraft of the expected future have to be available by 2018, the second pair within two years after that, according to sources in Seoul.
The Israeli solution of refurbishing existing aircraft seems to be the cheapest solution, with the type on its way to the Brazilian Air Force, the KC-46 the most logical choice politically speaking and the A330 MRTT probably the best choice if Seoul chooses for a proven platform instead of a new.
The A330 MRTT already is or will be in service with the Royal Air Force (Voyager; 10 aircraft plus 4 planned, flown by AirTanker), Royal Australian Air Force (KC-30; 5 aircraft with 2 more expected), the United Arab Emirates Air Force (3), the Royal Saudi Air Force (3 plus 3 ordered), Singapore (6 planned), Qatar (2 planned), France (12 planned), India (6 planned), Spain (2 planned), the Netherlands (2 planned) and European NATO nations Belgium / Norway / the Netherlands (2 planned). Note that only 9 RAF Voyagers are fully equipped as in-flight refueller to have London save costs.
Although the number of 62 A330 MRTTs looks impressive, it is small compared to the 179 to 400 KC-46s the US Air Force is expecting to field the coming years. But the Boeing project has been hit by delays and the first fully-equipped Pegasus is yet to make its first flight, planned for July this year.
The curtains were about to close on 2014, but in the end Boeing did on Sunday 28 December what it commited to earlier this year. From the Boeing Everett facility at Paine Field near Seattle, the first KC-46A Pegasus took the skies at 9:30 AM local time for a flight to nearby Boeing Field, where it landed safely after systems testing and being in the air for 3 hours and 32 minutes. The flight will no doubt be heralded as a milestone for the US Air Force’s troubled KC-X program. But in reality, the KC-46A has yet to fly.
The first fully equipped flight is still at least nine months away. Three more aircraft will follow, after which serial production of about 179 KC-46A tankers should begin. Starting 2017, they will replace the dozens and dozens of old, battered Boeing KC-135s that formed the backbone of US air-to-air refueling capability for decades. Also, the McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender will make way for the KC-46A. Poland is mentioned as a likely export customer. Modified tanker versions of the Boeing 767 are already in service with Italy, Japan and Colombia, and soon Brazil.
Troubled The KC-X/KC-46 program has a troubled history, however. If the US wasn’t overly protective of its own economy, the KC-135 and KC-10 would already be retired to the Arizona desert, with Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft taking their place. Initially, in 2003 Boeing indeed won the bid for the program, but fraud was involved and prison sentences were given to those involved.
The contract was canceled, and a new bid opened. In February 2008, the Pentagon awarded the contract to Northrop Grumman and Airbus Defense & Space, who had entered the A330 MRTT – aka KC-45 – together. Following a Boeing protest, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed the selection and in the end recommended a new bid. In February 2011, Boeing finally had its way and was awarded the KC-X contract.
Since then, the program hasn’t been without delays. Most prominent was the wiring in the first aircraft, that needed replacements because of malfunctions. The delays are causing a cost overrun of 1.5 billion USD over the original program development budget of 4.9 billion USD. It’s therefore no wonder Boeing felt the need the get first airplane flying before the end of the year.
The decision on which manufacturer may deliver four in-flight refuelling aircraft to the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) will not be taken this year, according to South Korean media including The Korea Herald.
While negotiations have been going on ever since March, there is yet no final deal in sight on the detailed price arrangements since none of the three bidders seems to meet industrial compensation that Korea wants. Those so-called offset agreements might mean work for Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) or other partners, or sharing of (some) technology with more business in mind.
The three competitors for the quartet of RoKAF tankers are the Airbus A330 MRTT (called KC-30A by the Royal Australian Air Force and Voyager by the RAF), the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus and the Israel Aircraft Industries which offers refurbished second hand aircraft. If Seoul chooses either Boeing or IAI the Koreans will get a tanker based on the 767 airliner.
Leaving politics out and focusing only on the technical and operational side of things Airbus in theory has the best cards on the table, with the A330 MRTT already in the air with the Royal Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, the United Arab Emirates Air Force, the Royal Saudi Air Force and ordered by the air forces of Singapore, Qatar, France and wanted by India and Spain as well.
The Boeing KC-46A is still in the construction phase with loads of possible problems during the development still ahead. However, with the US armed forces co-operating closely with the South Korean defence, the politics might be critical in the decision. The US Air Force said earlier this November it “still expects Boeing to meet the August 2017 target for delivering 18 new KC-46As” out of an expected total purchase plan of 179 aircraft. When these statements are made most of the time it means delays in the program with the buyer adding pressure to the seller, while seeming confident that everything will be okay.
The IAI solution will be the most economical one, as the second hand 767 solution of the Israelis will be about half the price of a new aircraft. Time will tell which business the South Korean leadership has in mind.
LATEST UPDATE 25 MARCH 2014 20:20 UTC | The armed forces of the Netherlands have turned a former navy air station into an airhead for the huge international Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in the area of The Hague from 23 to 26 March 2014. The US Army and US Marines landed nearby.
Five AH-64D Apache attack helicopters, 4 AS532U2 Cougar tactical transport choppers and 2 CH-47D Chinook medium-lift helicopters of the Royal Netherlands Air Force have as of 21 March 2014 been temporarily forwarded to ex-NAS Valkenburg near the Dutch governmental city, together with 500 personnel. Their number will increase to 19 helicopter of the armed forces and the national police, with at least three of the police’s Eurocopter EC135s on location. On Saterday a sixth RNLAF AH-64D arrived on Valkenburg, followed on Sunday by two National Police AW139s.
RNLAF F-16 Fighting Falcons will provide air coverage during the summit, with a pair of Vipers airborne at any time. They will enforce a declared no-fly zone above The Hague and hotels in Noordwijk near Amsterdam and intercept any threats. Extra F-16s will be put on alpha scramble alert on both Leeuwarden and Volkel airbases. Surface to air missiles have been put on five different locations in the crowded west of the country. See here a few photos of the RNLAF F-16s that flew CAP missions.
Tanker & AWACS
Eindhoven Airbase deploys 2 RNLAF KDC-10 tanker aircraft to refuel F-16s in the air, while NATOs AWACS fleet at German Geilenkirchen – near the Dutch border – has put 2 E-3 Sentry aircraft on alert. The Royal Netherlands Navy deployes air defence frigate Zr. Ms. De Zeven Provinciën off the coast, with corvettes Zr. Ms. Holland and Friesland in support with each of the corvettes having a NH-90 helicopter on board. The Coast Guard (Kustwacht) also deployed several vessels and is likely to put their Do-228s airborne as well.
During the NSS – with the actual summit days only on 24 and 25 March – a total number of 13,000 police and 8,000 Dutch military personnel will try to guarantee safety: 4,000 from the army, air force and navy plus 4,000 from the military police. The air situation picture during and from these days will not be shared via online media.
Rotterdam-The Hague Airport
Rotterdam Airport has seen several arrivals the last couple of days, including six US Army UH-60 Black Hawks arriving on 18 March. Two Presidential VH-60s and other stuff arrived by three USAF C-17A Globemasters on 15 (1 aircraft) and 19 (2 aircraft) March 2014. Check some images here. Another four C-17s landed on Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport.
The 58 world leaders and their entourage of 5,000 members will arrive in aircraft at Amsterdam-Schiphol IAP, where the so-called Polderbaan (Runway 18R – 36L) will be used for parking. Schiphol has already closed it down since 10 March and will execute scheduled maintenance after the nuclear summit. A relatively vast area around the runway will be a special secured area during the event.
From the following countries VIPs (and their aircraft) are expected: Argentine, Armenia (A319CJ), Australia, Azerbaijan (B767-300ER), Belgium, Brazil (VC-99B), Canada (CC-150), Chile, China (B747), the Czech Republic, Denmark (CL-604), Egypt, Finland, France (Falcon 7X), Gabon (B777), Georgia (G450), Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy (Falcon 900EX), Japan (2x B747-400), Jordan, Kazakhstan (A330-200), Lithuania (C-27J), Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria (B737BBJ), Norway, Pakistan (G450), Poland (ERJ175-200LR), the Philippines, Republic of Korea (B747-400), Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland (Falcon 900EX), Thailand, Turkey (B737-800), Ukraine (IL-62), the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States of America (VC-25A “Air Force One”, Gulfstream C-37B (G500), C-32 and more) and Vietnam (B777-200ER). Images of the arriving government aircraft can be found here.
One of the aircraft spotted early on at Schiphol was a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150. Also the Chinese start early with an official state visit of the Chinese president on 22 and 23 March to the Netherlands ahead of the NSS2014. As it is custom during these state visits the Air China Boeing 747 was accompanied from the Dutch border by a pair of RNLAF F-16s. See images of these scrambled aircraft here.
Source: Ministerie van Defensie (the Netherlands MoD) / Nederlandse Politie (the Netherlands National Police), with additional reporting by AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger