VT in talks to take stake in AirTanker

The AirTanker consortium, one of two groups vying for a £13bn air-to-air refuelling contract with the RAF, plans to strengthen its bid by bringing in a third British shareholder.

Discussions are being held with VT, formerly Vosper Thornycroft, to take a 10 per cent stake in AirTanker. At present the consortium is 50 per cent owned by EADS, which is Franco-German, and Thales, which is French. The two existing British partners, Cobham and Rolls-Royce, each has a 25 per cent shareholding.

AirTanker, which is offering to replace the RAF's ageing fleet of TriStars and VC-10s with Airbus A330s, is in competition with the Tanker Team consortium led by Boeing, BAe Systems and Serco, which is offering second-hand British Airways Boeing 767s.

The 27-year contract is the subject of an increasingly fierce political battle. There is speculation US President George Bush will lobby Prime Minister Tony Blair over the bid when he visits Britain this month.

Tanker Team claims the Boeing is a proven design already selected by three other air forces including the USAF.

To counter claims that the A330 would be less safe than the Boeing to operate, AirTanker carried out proximity trials last week using abmi British Midland A330 in close formation with a Tornado fighter jet.