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Enhanced cabin

The Enhanced Cabin variant of Voyager operates on a truly global stage. Whether it is transporting members of the Royal Family or Cabinet ministers and business leaders on a trade mission, every aspect of the tasking must run with absolute precision. Enhanced Cabin Operations Manager Andy West explains the meticulous planning that goes into every flight.

When images of Prime Minister Theresa May heading a UK trade delegation to China were beamed around the world in January this year, Voyager played an unheralded but vital role in making the visit run smoothly.

The Prime Minister was accompanied on the China visit by more than 50 industry leaders as well as a sizeable media contingent. The trade mission is a recent example of the taskings being undertaken by Voyager in its Enhanced Cabin (EC) configuration, which entered service with the fleet in July 2016.

Enhanced Cabin flights serve two specific customers – members of the Royal Family and Her Majesty’s Government. ZZ336 also continues to perform its primary air-to-air refuelling role within the fleet.

The interior of the EC aircraft is substantially different to the ‘standard’ Voyager cabin and reflects the enhanced service required on board. It comprises of 58 premium seats, which are equivalent to the business class seats you would find with a traditional airline, 100 standard Voyager economy seats and conferencing facilities.

Inside the aircraft

A unique operation

The nature of the taskings varies. Some will involve months of planning and are in the calendar well ahead of time, such as the G7 or G20 summits. Others can be short-notice flights, which means that operational planning must be able to kick into high gear whenever the call comes.

As Andy West explains, planning is a joint affair that requires close collaboration between AirTanker, 10 and 101 Squadron, and Force HQ, which will have direct contact with either the Royal household or Number 10.

“The Enhanced Cabin operation has some unique challenges. Every time we fly, we are in the public eye and given the nature of the passengers we welcome on board, every aspect of the service must be perfect."

“From the customer’s perspective the aircraft is an extension of their office. It is a working environment and that’s very much how every flight operates. There is no glitz and glamour, but we do seek to deliver a very high-quality service."

RAF uniform

The crew on board

On a typical EC flight there will be 11 cabin crew on board instead of the usual eight. Cabin crew undertake a specific Enhanced Cabin training course over three days to ensure they are familiar with the service level, and changes in cabin layout and emergency procedures. Recurrent training is currently being developed.

On each flight there will also be a minimum of two engineers and four movers, as well as a Catering Manager and a Mission Manager who is responsible for dealing with decisions that are outside the remit of the Captain. This might include handling schedule changes, catering issues or passengers arriving late. Every EC flight will also have an appropriate level of security personnel on board.

Depending on the duration of the tasking, crew may need to be pre-positioned to provide a seamless service where the aircraft needs to fly multiple sectors.

Boarding Voyager

Teamwork

Before any EC flight, many different teams and departments have a part to play. Engineering must confirm that the aircraft is serviceable and ready for operation. The tasking may require flights to destinations that are new to Voyager operations.

Aviation Services therefore ensures that the relevant airfields are categorised and safe to operate to. Crewing handle any Pilot or Cabin Crew issues, while Flight Operations are on hand for any technical support needed.

“We are also in constant contact with the Squadrons to make sure everyone has access to the right information at the right time, explains Andy."

"There is also a lot of thought goes into contingency planning. What if our destination airport is unavailable? Are we likely to be affected by weather?"

RAF Teamwork  

Andy’s path to AirTanker

Andy West understands all about maintaining high service standards. Prior to joining AirTanker he worked in the private aviation sector for six years supporting the owner of an Airbus A319 corporate jet.

“My role was to look after the owner and his family in terms of their air travel – making arrangements for flights, ensuring that the on-board service was perfect and accompanying him on certain flights. The aircraft was also chartered when not in use, so I also dealt with those arrangements too."

“I never imagined for a moment that this opportunity with AirTanker would come along. I remember reading about the launch of the Enhanced Cabin service in Flight Global and thinking ‘it would be awesome to be involved in that’.

“I decided to apply and to be offered the role was fantastic. I enjoy the teamwork and the fact that there is huge variety in the taskings."

Rising to the challenge

How would Andy sum up the challenge of an EC tasking? “It’s intense but also rewarding. You are constantly aware of being under the microscope and we know that the service we offer must reach the same extremely high standard every time we fly. But overall, it’s a great experience and I love my role.

 

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