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Controversial flights with migrants may be made by aircraft serving the British military

Controversial flights with migrants may be made by aircraft serving the British military

Image: Airbus

The UK government is close to finalizing a deal with British charter airline AirTanker to operate controversial deportation flights carrying migrants from Rwanda. If its plans get the green light in the coming days, the operations will leave British airports for the African nation's capital, Kigali.

The deal will be the last piece of the diplomatic puzzle over a highly controversial policy launched by the United Kingdom in April 2022, first proposed by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The deportation process has drawn heavy criticism since its publication, with anyone arriving illegally in the UK being deported to a purpose-built detention center in Rwanda, 4,000 miles away. UK

The policy, which has been updated several times to appease various political and other opponents of the bill, is expected to clear the last legal hurdles by the end of April 2024. However, facilities in Rwanda are willing to accept prisoners. For months, the UK government has struggled to find an airline willing to operate the controversial deportation flights.

In the past, British carriers such as Channel Express and Titan Airways, as well as the Spanish carrier Privilege Style, have all been chosen for other similar flights. However, none of these carriers are now willing to participate in such a controversial deal, mainly due to action by activist groups and widespread exposure on social media.

As a result, AirTanker, which has historically fulfilled contracts with the British government, is the only aircraft carrier lined up to carry out the mission, including military service flights using Airbus A330s.

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As mentioned, the Airtanker is not new to the UK government as it has been flying since 2008 under contract for the Royal Air Force and the Ministry of Defence. In fact, from its current fleet of four Airbus A330-2000s, three are being operated. The Air Commando wing of the Royal Air Force has a 320-seat passenger configuration and is mainly used for British troop transport groups around the world.

Although the airtanker is a completely separate commercial entity from the RAF, it shares an operational base with the RAF's Air Commando unit at Bryce Norton Air Base in Oxfordshire. Two of the three aircraft also feature a hybrid RAF exterior color scheme, while the other is white.

Although the UK government has not officially disclosed the identity of the aircraft, should it get the green light, sources in Rishi Sunak's government have told several UK media outlets that AirTanker continues to be the preferred partner based on its previous experience. His special authorization was to fly from Bryce Norton, a high security military airfield on RAF operations and guarded by civilian and military police forces.