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The trials, which were conducted in airspace off the coast of northern New South Wales between June 1 and 13, were overseen by the RAAF’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit. During testing, the aircraft conducted 118 ‘dry’ contacts and six ‘wet’ contacts.
“Air-to-air refuelling considerably increases the Wedgetail’s range and endurance, allowing us to provide command and control and air battlespace management over longer periods,” said Wing Commander Christian Martin, commanding officer of Squadron, which operates the Wedgetail airborne early warning and control platform.
“This has been demonstrated in the Middle East region under Operation OKRA [in Iraq] where RAAF Wedgetails have used foreign air force tankers to fly extended sorties. Once the trial results are assessed, an initial clearance is expected to be granted to allow Wedgetail crews to begin refuelling training flights with the KC-30A.”
Squadron Leader Ben Goring, executive officer of 33 Squadron, stated that air-to-air refuelling required both aircraft to fly in close formation at more than 500 km/h.
“The KC-30A deploys the 17-metre-long Aerial Refuelling Boom System from the aft fuselage, which is guided by an air refuelling operator on the KC-30A into a refuelling receptacle on the Wedgetail,” SQNLDR Goring said.
The RAAF achieved the first refuelling boom contact using the KC-30A on May 13. The KC-30A has already been cleared to refuel the RAAF’s Hornets and Super Hornets using its hose-and-drogue refuelling pods.
Two KC-30A crews have completed the first boom contact by the aircraft in RAAF service.
The first KC-30’s crew deployed the 17-metre-long Aerial Refuelling Boom System (ARBS) to make 14 successful contacts with the refuelling receptacle of a second KC-30 during a three-hour flight out of RAAF Base Amberley southwest of Brisbane on May 13.
No fuel was transferred between the aircraft.
The Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) stated in March that the KC-30 project – AIR 5402 – had been removed from the Projects of Concern list, after an extensive development and testing program led to issues that were previously identified with the introduction of the ARBS being resolved.
“More training flights are being flown to ensure aircrew are experienced with the operation of the ARBS,” said Air Vice-Marshal Gavin Turnbull, Air Commander Australia. “We will shortly begin training flights with the KC-30A using its ARBS to refuel the E-7A Wedgetail.
“The KC-30A has already been cleared to refuel other aircraft in flight with its hose-and-drogue refuelling pods, which are mounted beneath the wings. The refuelling pods have been used to great effect in Operation OKRA by refuelling RAAF Hornets and Super Hornets over Iraq, as well as coalition strike aircraft.”
The ARBS is capable of offloading fuel at a rate of 4,500 litres per minute, and is also compatible with the C-17 Globemaster. In the future, the boom will be used to refuel the F-35 Lightning II and P-8 Poseidon.
Air New Zealand looks set to receive some new competition on regional routes with Jetstar announcing plans to launch turboprop operations from December.
The Qantas-owned low-cost carrier said on Thursday it would introduce five 50-seat Bombardier Q300s to connect yet-to-be determined regional NZ centres to its current domestic NZ network of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin.
QantasLink’s Eastern Airlines Australia will operate and manage the Q300 fleet in NZ, Jetstar said. Routes and frequencies are expected to be announced in September after consultations with regional airports, governments and business groups.
Hamilton, Rotorua, New Plymouth, Napier, Palmerston North, Nelson and Invercargill are listed as potential new destinations.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, who made the announcement in Auckland alongside NZ Prime Minister John Key, said regional communities were “calling out for more choice and lower fares on regional routes in New Zealand because there’s a lack of competition”.
“We’re answering that call by launching Jetstar flights to regional New Zealand, making air travel more affordable for people who live outside the main centres and boosting tourism and the economies of these areas,” Joyce said in a statement.
“These new regional destinations will connect with the broader Qantas Group network, including both Qantas and Jetstar flying across the Tasman, to make these parts of New Zealand more accessible to international travellers.”
Jetstar currently has nine Airbus A320s flying domestically within NZ, across the Tasman and to the Pacific Islands. The first trans-Tasman flights started in 2005, while domestic services began in 2009. Currently, Jetstar has crew bases in at Auckland and Christchurch.
Jetstar group chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka promised fares would “drop considerably on the regional routes where we’ll operate”.
“We have made travel more affordable for New Zealanders flying between the main centres. Now we’re bringing our passion for affordable travel to thousands of new Jetstar travellers in the regions, whether they are flying for leisure or business,” Hrdlicka said.
Prime Minister Key said Jetstar’s announcement was good news.
“This will create jobs, mean cheaper fares and more choice for New Zealanders and our international visitors, and will provide a welcome boost to regional economies,” Key said in a statement.
“Extra air links will help connect regional New Zealand with the world and the main centres, making it easier to do business and for Kiwis and tourists to get around the country.”
Currently, Air NZ dominates NZ regional routes with its fleet of 17 Beechcraft 1900Ds, 11 ATR 72-500s, seven ATR 72-600s and 23 Bombardier Q300s.
In November 2014, Air NZ said it would move all regional flying to either 50-seat Dash 8 or 68-seat ATR 72 aircraft and withdraw all its 19-seat Beechcraft aircraft by August 2016 as part of a restructure of its regional operations.
The airline also introduced from February 2015 a new Regional Gotta Go domestic fare in response to concerns about the high price of last minute fares on regional services.
Available for purchase 90 minutes prior to departure, tickets on a regional route were available for a fixed price of NZ$169 for a single one-way sector and $249 for two or more one-way sectors.
Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon said in November the airline’s average regional airfare had fallen by two per cent over the past five years and the changes would keep further downward pressure on regional ticket prices.
Jetstar will join low-cost carriers such as Malindo in Malaysia, Nok Air in Thailand, Lion Group’s Wings Air in Indonesia and WestJet in Canada with turboprop operations. And Cebu Pacific Air in the Philippines announced an order for 16 ATR 72-600s and options for 10 more at the Paris Airshow to add to the eight of the type already in its fleet.
In November 2014, Qantas said it would shed four Q300s from its Australian operations as part of a cost-cutting move.
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