The French Ministry of Armed Forces took delivery of the third Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) Phénix at Istres-Le Tubé Air Base on July 10, 2020, four months ahead of the initial schedule.
“Like the two other Phénix already received, this aircraft will have the medical evacuation capacity already implemented during Operation Resilience,” said the Ministry in a press release. Using their medical evacuation capacity, the A330 Phénix transporters were used to transport patients with coronavirus during the French military mission to contain the coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic, Operation Resilience.
La loi de programmation militaire en action. Un 3e A330 Phénix vient d’être livré au ministère des Armées avec quatre mois d’avance. Chargé du ravitaillement en vol et du transport stratégique, l’A330 est un outil incontournable de nos armées. pic.twitter.com/NU3vBe4Lfw— Florence Parly (@florence_parly) July 16, 2020
The Phénix is a multirole aircraft, both a tanker and a carrier (freight and passengers). It is based on the A330 airframe which has been militarized and adapted to the specific needs of the French Air Force. Because of its versatility, the Phoenix replaces two separate fleets on all of their missions: in-flight refueling (C135-FR and KC135R) and strategic personnel and cargo transport (A310 and A340). Their refueling capacity makes them an important component of the French air nuclear deterrence.
In June 2020, an order for three additional A330 aircraft, later to be converted into MRTT refuelers, was announced as part of the support plan to alleviate the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the aerospace sector. The order took the total future fleet to 15. The remaining 12 aircraft should also be delivered earlier than expected, in 2023 instead of 2025.
The advance on schedule is most likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After cutting rates of the A330neo to two a month, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury explained in an interview with Aviation Week that the manufacturer would take advantage of the production slots taken by military customers.
The A330 MRTT “Phénix” tanker aircraft was used for the first time in operation by the French Air Force on March 22, 2019, when it ferried two Rafale C of 30th Hunter Escadre to the H5 Prince Hassan Air Base Air Base in Amman-Marqa, Jordan.