A trial looking at whether alternative routing arrangements of the Operation HERRICK airbridge, which transports troops to Afghanistan, can increase its capacity is set to begin next week.
The trial, which begins on Tuesday 1 July 2008 for around six weeks, will extend the planned flight-time from the UK to Afghanistan by three hours, and from Afghanistan to the UK by one and a half hours. But it is hoped that it will reduce the overall time personnel spend in theatre.
The airbridge provides a consistent and reliable service, moving large numbers of personnel and material into hostile environments under difficult conditions and over strategic distances. Indeed from April 2007 to April 2008, 72 per cent of the airbridge flights to and from Afghanistan were on time or delayed for less than one hour. However the MOD is looking to significantly improve the Service.
The trial will focus on the contribution made by the RAF's Tristar Fleet, and a key element entails altering the airbridge routing so that aircraft make an additional stop (in both directions) at RAF Akrotiri (in Cyprus) to refuel and change crew en-route.
The opportunity is also being taken to capture data on weight, baggage space, catering etc, to enable a thorough assessment to be made about potential future benefits and changes. The trial is timed so that sufficient data and evidence can be gathered to be statistically valid, before the next planned roulement (which is when the Airbridge is typically under greatest stress).
Although the trial will necessitate extended flying times, the MOD asks for understanding while these conditions apply, as it is believed they will lead to benefits downstream.
If the aircraft experiences a delay during the extra stops, passengers will be deplaned and fed, if circumstances warrant and in line with existing practice, if the delay is serious enough, passengers will be accommodated overnight whilst an alternative airlift is sourced.
The revised routing could enable the RAF to transport up to 125 more passengers per week during a roulement, which could shorten this process by up to two weeks and help maintain a typical operational tour length of six months for the majority of personnel serving in Afghanistan.