Nigel Pittaway | Melbourne
In an unannounced deal, the Royal Australian Air Force is acquiring four new Beechcraft King Air 350 aircraft to train Air Force Air Combat Officers and Navy Aviation Warfare Officers (AvWOs) at East Sale.
The aircraft, equipped with the latest Rockwell Collins Proline 21 avionics suite, are being leased from Hawker Pacific and are already at Bankstown. They will be progressively delivered through 2017.
Air Force already has eight King Airs for this purpose, with 32 Squadron at East Sale and ADM understands a further four will be acquired next year to completely replace the older aircraft, which have the earlier Proline 2 cockpit.
Eight Proline 21-equipped King Airs also serve with 38 Squadron and are currently based at Townsville in the light transport role. All 16 are leased from Hawker Pacific.
Air Force has previously mooted a consolidation of its King Air fleet – most likely at East Sale – as the leases on the earlier aircraft expire between now and 2018. If it were to go ahead, the withdrawal of Defence-operated assets from North Queensland has the potential to become a political football and is understandably a sensitive issue.
It is not clear whether the proposed fleet consolidation will now go ahead, however, and ADM’s request for information from Defence’s media operations centre in Canberra has largely fallen on deaf ears. Despite several requests over a two week period, the only response has been a three-sentence statement, attributed to a Defence spokesperson, which confirmed that four aircraft are being acquired and will be operated by 32 Squadron.
The spokesperson said that the new aircraft are being leased through the current sustainment program managed by CASG.