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Ten year anniversary of FSTA contract

Category: AirTanker Released: 27 March 2018

It’s amazing to think that 10 years have passed since AirTanker and the MoD signed the FSTA contract that officially began the Voyager programme. At the end of March we marked its 10 year anniversary and significant milestone of the programme. Phill Blundell, AirTanker CEO, reflects on the achievements of the past decade and challenges that lie ahead.

At the start of the contract in 2008, the company consisted of only a handful of employees. Since then, the company has grown from strength to strength as the business has developed and now has over 1100 personnel working in support of the programme. Phill Blundell, AirTanker CEO, joined AirTanker in 2005 during the contract bidding phase. Recollecting the early days of the business, Phill explained:

"I recall we were named as 'the team least likely to fail' which is perhaps not the most ringing endorsement, but I think we've more than proved ourselves since then to be the most successful PFI contract. 

What I remember about those early days is that we were starting from scratch. We ran the bid from an office in Bristol and it was a small team, working long hours and trying to balance the needs of three different parties; the Customer, our shareholders and the lenders.

It was effectively a start-up operation because there was nothing in place - we had to create the structure of the company, do all the financial modelling and consider all the risks if starting a new venture". 

The construction of The Hub at RAF Brize Norton commenced shortly after the contract was signed, and the business saw a quick growth in order to run the new organisation. The Hub, two-bay hangar and all associated infrastructure were completed and officially opened in 2011, almost 3 years to the date of the contract.

From that point onwards, there have been many milestone achievements, from the delivery of each of the 14 aircraft in the fleet, through to achieving Full Service Date in September 2016. A specific memory of Phill’s was the first flight in the development programme back in 2010:

"We were on the roof of the office building at the airport in Getafe and it was such a mixture of feeling: anticipation, nervousness but also great pride in what had been achieved to that point. I expected a very short flight, basically a take-off and landing and not much else - in the end, the aircraft was in the air for a couple of hours which was a signal that we were on track”. 

There are many achievements in which the whole Voyager community can be proud of; taking sole responsibility of Air-to-Air Refuelling two months ahead of schedule following the retirement of the VC-10 and TriStar; our role in delivering the South Atlantic Airbridge; supporting Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) taskings and global operations; and the launch of our first ever apprenticeship programme in 2016 - opening up opportunities for people who want to forge a career in our industry.

With the fleet now complete and in full operation, the launch and growth of the civil leasing business is another unique aspect of AirTanker’s operations. A full programme is set for summer 2018 and awareness of what we can offer has significantly increased within the leasing market. Looking ahead, Phill explains:

“It is important for us to focus on doing a good job day-in, day-out for our MOD customer because that’s why we exist in the first place. We must continue to strengthen our relationship with the Voyager Squadron’s and innovate in the service we offer. We also need to look beyond the contract – it was written 10 years ago and the world we operate in is changing all the time.”

British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) Brize Norton Radio Presenter, Alex Gill, caught up with Phill Blundell, AirTanker CEO and Geoff Winterbottom, Technical Delivery Manager, to hear about their experiences and thoughts of the past 10 years in the company. Click here to listen to the interview again.

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