The A330 MRTT “Phénix” tanker aircraft was used for the first time in operation by the French Air Force on March 22, 2019.

The aircraft ferried two Rafale C of 30th Hunter Escadre to the H5 Prince Hassan Air Base Air Base in Amman-Marqa, Jordan. Since 2014, the French Air Force operates from this base as part of the “Opération Chammal“, name given to the participation of France in the US-led coalition against the so-called Islamic State.

During the 4 hours 30 minutes flight, the tanker delivered  just over 12 tons of oil to two fighters. “This remains a "small" delivery given the capabilities of the Phoenix. It proves once again the multi-role capability of this vector and the possibility of mixing the missions (transporting freight or passengers during a ferry mission)," explains Commander François, captain of the aircraft during this mission.

The two Rafale C relieved two Rafale B that were ferried back two days later by the same A330 MRTT, according to a statement from the French Armed Forces Staff.

This flight was carried out just a few days after certificates of airworthiness for the A330 Phoenix were handed over on March 18,  2019. In January 2019, the A330 Phoenix had made its first very long distance mission as part of the "Marathon-Monfreid" exercise.

Delivered to the French Air Force in September 2018, the Phénix is ​​a multirole aircraft, both tanker and carrier (freight and passengers). The A330 airliner has been militarized and adapted to the specific needs of the French Air Force, including a mission system that was tested during this first ferry mission. The air force will eventually be equipped with 15 Phénix tankers, expected to be delivered by 2025.

Selected by a dozen air forces around the world, the A330 MRTT is already in use by the British Royal Air Force through a leasing service offered by the company AirTanker. On March 29, 2019, South Korea received the second of four Airbus A330 MRTT. 

The aircraft comes as a direct competitor to Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, which has only been ordered by two air forces so far: the United States Air Force and the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force.

Airbus initially participated in the USAF tender for a new refueling system. With its A330 MRTT already in production, the European manufacturer was way ahead of its American rival whose KC-46 “Pegasus” was still on the drawing board. However, after intense lobbying for the “Buy American”, the contract was eventually taken away from Airbus and given to Boeing.

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One company's demise is another one's opportunity. Or in this case, two companies. Lockheed Martin and Airbus signed a memorandum of agreement to “jointly explore opportunities to meet the growing demand for aerial refueling for US defense customers.” The manufacturers are taking advantage of the difficulties encountered by Boeing's KC-46A Pegasus.