LONDON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Britain has grounded its fleet of Airbus-made Voyager military aircraft after one of the large tanker planes plummeted several thousand feet during a flight to Afghanistan.
The fleet is part of one of Britain's most expensive defence equipment projects, under which it leases 14 Voyager jets from the Airbus-led AirTanker consortium in a 14 billion pound ($23 billion) contract.
The Voyager, the largest aircraft in the Royal Air Force (RAF) fleet, is a converted Airbus A330-200 which can refuel fighters or carry troops or medical evacuees in a normal cabin and can carry 291 troops.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said one of them suffered an "in-flight issue" on Feb. 9 and as a precaution it was diverted to an airfield in Turkey. He said a few passengers received minor injuries in the incident.
"The safety of all our air crews and passengers is our paramount concern, therefore, following this incident it has been decided to temporarily suspend military-registered Voyager flying while this is fully investigated," he added.
An RAF source said the plane, which was travelling at 38,000 feet, plummeted between 3,000 and 5,000 feet. The source said the AirTanker consortium could possibly be called on to reimburse the RAF for the flying hours lost, depending on the nature of the fault.
The AirTanker consortium, which is also made up of Babcock , Cobham, Rolls-Royce and Thales , said on its website that it was working with the RAF, MoD, Airbus and investigators in accordance with normal procedures.