By Jordan Chong
Northrop Grumman Australia has announced it will maintain the RAAF special purpose aircraft (SPA) fleet for at least the next six years as part of a contract extension.
The “sole-source, 18-year rolling wave contract” had an initial period of six years for the sustainment and maintenance of the SPA VIP fleet valued at $84 million, a May 2 company statement says.
The work covers logistics, maintenance, engineering and training support for the SPA fleet of two Boeing 737 BBJ aircraft and three Dassault Falcon 7X business jets that are currently replacing three Bombardier Challenger CL604s.
Northrop Grumman said it would also continue to support the three CL604s until their withdrawal from the fleet.
“This award is a reflection of our team’s support to the RAAF and the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group, especially through our work on the SPA, KC-30A and C- 27J programs,” Northrop Grumman Australia chief executive Chris Deeble said in a statement. “As a leader in platform stewardship and global fleet management, we look forward to maintaining our 100 per cent mission capable rate.”
Since 2001, Northrop Grumman Integrated Defence Services (NGIDS – formerly Qantas Defence Services) has delivered through-life support to 34SQN at Defence Establishment Fairbairn in Canberra. And in 2017, Defence exercised options that extended the SPA maintenance and support arrangement with NGIDS until September 2019 to align with the lease terms of the current fleet.
The first of the three Falcon 7X aircraft, A56-001, arrived at Fairbairn on April 16 painted in familiar RAAF VIP fleet colours.
(Editor’s note: Curiously, after photos of the 7X arrival and supporting statements by the commanding officer of 34SQN were posted to Defence’s media page, these have since been removed from the Defence website, perhaps due to political sensitivities during the federal election campaign.)
The SPA fleet will be further bolstered later this year with the arrival of the seventh and final KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport configured with a VIP interior to support long-range government transport needs.
While the aircraft’s primary role will remain that of a tanker transport and it will be operated by the Amberley-based 33SQN as part of that fleet, it features an upgraded cabin with accommodation areas, secure communications, a meeting room, a working area and airline-style seating.
The VIP-configured KC-30A is one of two ex-Qantas Airbus A330-200s which has been converted by Airbus Defence and Space. The aircraft is currently in Hamburg in Germany undergoing final fit-out and testing, and is expected to arrive in Australia shortly after the federal election.