Pallets East!

463L Pallet RAF_Delivers_Aid_to_Flood_Hit_Pakistan_MOD_45151688

There have been a couple of quite interesting Parliamentary questions recently.

The first was tabled by Angus Robertson of the SNP, enquiring about moving supplies to Afghanistan by air and the difference between the RAF and chartered civilian aircraft.

Angus Robertson (Moray, Scottish National Party) To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what estimate he has made of the (a) number of pallets, (b) tonnage of supplies and (c) number of flights to Afghanistan taken by (i) RAF transport and (ii) leased transport aircraft in each of the last six years.

Peter Luff (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Defence Equipment, Support and Technology), Defence; Mid Worcestershire, Conservative) The Ministry of Defence (MOD) does not lease aircraft, ie rent them to be flown by MOD pilots, but rather charters with private companies to fly on the MOD’s behalf. The number of pallets, weight of supplies (in tonnes) and number of flights taken by RAF and civilian chartered aircraft to Afghanistan over the last six calendar years are as follows:

RAF Aircraft  Civilian Leased Aircraft  
 Number of palletsWeight of supplies (in tonnes)Number of flightsNumber of palletsWeight of supplies (in tonnes)Number of flights

Digging those figures a little more deeply

  • The last 5 years have seen the RAF averaging just under 14 tonnes and 6 pallets per flight with civilian charters, 30 and 13 respectively.
  • The split between the RAF and civilian charters is roughly 50:50
  • Both the number of pallets per flight and tonnes per flight have on average declined year on year for both

It is very difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions, the RAF has a more people focussed mission as only aircraft fitted with DAS can carry personnel, outsize cargo might not weigh much and not be palletised or the RAF is concentrating on tactical delivery in a hub and spoke arrangement in theatre.

There are always hundreds of tales behind the numbers.

Perhaps one thing that is obvious is that the RAF is unable to cope with the demands being placed on it. In terms of weight carried, the RAF has less than 50% of its required lift capacity. Years of underinvestment in the transport fleet and delays in the FSTA programme means we can not sustain a relatively modest (in personnel terms) operation without resorting to civilian operators.

Maybe a second answer from the house might actually throw some light on our actual strategic transport capability from our friend Angus again;

Angus Robertson (Moray, Scottish National Party) To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the availability rate was of each TriStar aircraft in each of the last 12 months.

Nick Harvey (Minister of State (Armed Forces), Defence; North Devon, Liberal Democrat) The available information is shown in the following table. The figures represent the average number of airframes from each TriStar variant available in the forward fleet during each month of 2010. The forward fleet comprises aircraft which are serviceable and those which are short-term unserviceable.


The figures look woeful but again, it’s worth looking behind them. We only have a total fleet of 9 aircraft split between the 3 types.

  • c2, 3 of, is passenger only. Monthly availability rates between 27% and 67%
  • K1, 2 of, passenger and refuelling (no cargo door). Monthly availability rates between 0% and 50%
  • KC1, 4 of, mixed passenger, cargo and refuelling. Monthly availability rates between 58% and 100%

The fluctuations in availability rates could be caused by a myriad of factors but despite the herculean efforts of the maintainers (which never seem to be recognised or rewarded) it is a plane (sorry) that it just isn’t good enough and the very fact that we have allowed ourselves to be in a position of having to use such ancient aircraft tells us all we need to know about the MoD and RAF.

The Future Strategic Transport Aircraft programme is nipping along nicely but if ever there was an eagerly awaited capability it is this.

By the way, I know we don’t use wooden pallets as per the picture on the front page, have a read here for further details or airborne logistics.

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