After 22 years of operations, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force, GAF) retired the last of four Airbus A310-304 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft from active service on June 15, leaving Canada as the sole remaining military operator of the widebody strategic tanker/transport.
The final aircraft – serial 10+25 ‘Hermann Köhl’ – was built in 1988 and was operated as part of the Luftwaffe’s Flugbereitschaft des Bundesministeriums der Verteidigung (FBS BMVg, Special Air Mission of the Federal Ministry of Defence) from Köln-Wahn Air Base, near Cologne in western Germany, from 1996 until it was retired on June 15.
Unlike several of the other Luftwaffe-operated A310s, which were flown to Leipzig for scrapping, this aircraft has reportedly been sold to Canada, where it will likely be used as a source of spares for the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF’s) two-strong fleet of Airbus CC-150T Polaris MRTTs, which entered service in October 2004.
Despite initial plans to retire the final A310-304 MRTT in February, it was decided that the last aircraft (serial 10+25) would be retained until June. This move occurred shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. “A further extension is not possible because the aircraft is due for a maintenance measure (D-Check) lasting several months,” according to the Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces).
The A310-304 MRTT will ultimately be replaced in German service by Airbus A330-243MRTTs operating as part of NATO’s Multinational MRTT Unit (MMU), which will be headquartered at Eindhoven Air Base in the Netherlands, once the fleet has been certified by Dutch authorities. This certification is expected to be attained within the coming months. Of the nine A330-243MRTTs on order, three will be based with a NATO MMU unit at Köln-Wahn Air Base.
In the meantime, some of the A310-304 MRTT’s tasks, such as medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), will initially be absorbed by the Luftwaffe’s fleet of Airbus A400M Atlas heavy-lift tactical transports – specifically those operated by Lufttransportgeschwader 62 (LTG 62, 62nd Air Transport Squadron) at Wunstorf Air Base in northern Germany. Some of the German A400Ms also boast an air-to-refuelling capability, with approximately three aircraft fitted with wing-mounted refuelling pods at any one time.
The Bundeswehr added that “there will be one aircraft on 12-hour standby and another on 24-hour standby to provide medical care to wounded or ill servicemen and women from the Bundeswehr’s area of operations.”
In total, the Luftwaffe operated seven A310-304 aircraft – four of which were configured for MRTT and MEDEVAC operations, while the remaining three were used for conventional strategic transport operations. An example of the latter was sold in 2011, reducing the fleet to six aircraft. Previously agreed plans to extend the operational service life of the four MRTT-configured A310s beyond 2021 – to cater for the establishment in the NATO MMU unit – were not pursued for cost reasons, according to the Bundeswehr.