Text: Serge Van Heertum -
Translation: Marc Arys
© sbap 2015
The airport of
Gosselies is located not far from the town Charleroi and is without a doubt
one of the major sites regarding Belgian aeronautical industry. Thanks to
this industry this little interwar airfield grew bigger and bigger
throughout the years and the 50's and 60's were full of events and
developments with the emergence of mythical airplanes such as the F-104G.
During the years 2000 air transport developed from and towards Gosselies and
regarding this aeronautical wealth, it seems appropriate to draw a special
page together with our “Archivalia” pages to present you a panel of events,
which happens and/or happened at this airport, some forgotten others not
The page 'Echo Bravo Charlie India' will consist of two parts, one covering
the 20th century including big and small events untill the eve of the year
2000. The second page covers the 21th century and our goal is to complete
these pages, bit by bit, with old images or with recent visitors. This new
column was made possible through our contributors Pierre Taquet and Philippe
Decock as well as through our SBAP-archives and other contributors. We are
sure other contributors will also be read as findings gradually will show up
regarding, what is called since some years, 'Charleroi - Brussels South
Charleroi-Gosselies Brussels South today (Google earth)
With the emergence of the modern aerostation and following the royal
experience of the Champ de Mars on August 17, 1783, the military engineering
rapidly took an interest in this new technique of aerial observation. The
plateau of Gosselies, called the 'Mont des Bergers' and which dominated the
region, was home to ascent tests during the batlle of Fleurus as the terrain
was close to the headquarters of General Jourdan.
Due to its geographical location Gosselies had to have an aeronautical
vocation as the plateau was culminating the whole region. Some months after
the end of World War I, the airfield, inaugurated in 1919 by his majesty
King Albert, became home of the first Belgian flying school training around
400 military and civilian pilots.
In 1920, Commandant Fernand JACQUET, a Belgian World War I ace, founded the
Société Générale d'Aéronautique (SEGA) at Gosselies, comprising mainly the
maintenance and repair of the flying machines used by the numerous
flying-clubs in the area. Developments went well ahead and confidence in
aviation future builded up and the SEGA-company acquired allotment by
allotment managing to gather some 28 hectares in one batch. In the 20's the
main activity of Gosselies airfield consisted of flight training and
'leisure' flights and from 1926 on we could see the upcome of repair and
maintenance of various aircraft types.
On August 27, 1931, the bylaws of the company Avions Fairey S.A. were signed
and published on September 12, 1931 in the appendix of the Moniteur Belge.
This company would alter quite profoundly and long-lastingly the scenery of
the Belgian aeronautical industry. The capital of the Avions Fairey S.A. was
allocated through the parent company Fairey (Hayes), Richard Fairey and
Oscar Tips, SEGA and four other founders. The management of the company was
entrusted to Mr Tips who appointed Fernand Jacquet as the commercial
director. I no time Gosselies became the capital of the Belgian aeronautical
On May 10, 1940, 05.00 AM, the German air force attacked Gosselies airfield
and the Luftwaffe bombed and destroyed completely the hangars and facilities
of the Fairey Company which was license-building Hawker Hurricanes at the
In 1940 Gosselies was the only Luftwaffe airbase in the region, not with an
overflow on activities although the German administration found it
convenient to conceal its installations into civilian dwellings as it did
for most of its operational airbases.
A "Bergungskommando", Fulgberk 10B was stationed on the premises to
investigate any location where an allied aircraft was shot down, to identify
and recover interesting parts and sent the remains back to Germany to be
Guarding of the airfield was not regarded as that important although a unit
of the “Vlaamse Wacht” reinforced the personnel in 1943.
At the end of 1942 the Luftwaffe rebuild an airbase at Florennes, becoming
operational in 1943 to welcome Stab/NCJ4. From that time on Gosselies became
a diversion airfield where some German aircraft were permanently based. On
April 1944, two fighters took part in one of the sole aerial combats in the
area against American planes : the first was shot down ; the second,
damaged, landed back at Gosselies to utlimately be destroyed on April 23
during a ground attack by an American fighter.
Here you have a fragment of the report sent to England at the end of
November 1943 by the 'Marc' network, giving an accurate description of
"... A concrete road, 10 meters large, running from the North to the South.
The perimeter was converted to agricultural land for the Luftwaffe. Oxes and
tractors are used together with about fifty labourers and cows and sheeps
graze within the enclosure. The airfield is not permanently in use and the
airplanes present are a light bomber and a two-seat fighter aircraft.
Regularly a JU52 transport aircraft comes in to land and departs back after
a few hours. If the stay is to be extended, the hangar is guarded by a
sentinel... Although the airfield is lightly guarded, the sentinel keeps
some big dogs, shepherds like.
The enclosure of the airfield consists in a simple mesh tautened between
concrete posts. No Flak present and the platforms are unoccupied. The flight
area is completely unobstructed and the airfield has no “frisian horses” on
site. Dimensions are still 1 km by 1 km with three hangars, 38 meters large,
with 8 sliding doors (4 meters width). These hangars are made of sheet metal
and the sides are protected by brick walls of 50 cm thick and 6 meters high.
With the liberation occuring in September 1944, the airfield enters an
American period and becomes Charleroi A-87. From September 11 on, two
photographic reconnaissance aircraft are based on the premises and till the
end of the operations, Gosselies stayed a transit center for medium bombers
flying from England towards Germany.
During the liberation period, the airfield is frequently visited by
civilians and the authorities had to take some decisions prohibiting traffic
onto the surroundings of Gosselies airfield as the use by the American
military aviation made this traffic hazardous. During several years a
'crossing keeper' protected the crossing of the runway at the road from
Jumet to Ransart.
Gosselies airfield at Hawker Hunter period (Coll Serge Van Heertum)
Fairey building at same period (Coll Serge Van Heertum)
From June 1945 on, Fairey Aviation Company decided on the continuity of the
company at Gosselies and started to rebuild the ruins left over by the
Germans. The passage of seven Douglas C-47A Dakota through the Fairey
workshops marked the reboot of the company.
On November 20, 1946, Gosselies is classified in the public airfield
category and its exploitation ensured by the Régie des Voies Aériennes
(R.V.A.) from 1947 on. Thanks to new contracts the Fairey Aviation Company
booms and the workshop area is doubled in just one year.
On July 27, 1954, Fairey S.A. and SABCA temporarly teamed up with the
Ministry of Defence within the frame of the Hawker Hunter program. At this
occasion the Société Anonyme Belge de Constructions Aéronautiques (SABCA),
located at Haren near Brussels, decided to install a new factory at
Gosselies. The Régie des Voies Aériennes, owner of the Gosselies airport,
built the hangars with an area of 12.800 m2, parallel to the runway and the
route des Fusillés, nowadays a private road giving only access to the SABCA
facilities. This road was named that way to commemorate the slaughter of 241
people by the German soldiers between 1940 and 1945. A monument was also
erected in their memory.
The war damages allowed the rebuild of a new south-east runway with a length
of 1.400 meters which was inaugurated on July 13, 1953 during the Exposition
Technique de la ville de Charleroi (Technical Exhibition of the town of
Charleroi). In 1955 the Régie des Voies Aériennes decided to lengthen the
runway to 2.550 meters.
Gosselies airfield around 1955 (Coll Pierre Taquet)
The “Golden Sixties” favoured the development of fast communication means
such as the “autoroute de Wallonie” and the fast axis
Antwerp-Brussels-Charleroi (A54). The creation of industrial areas between
Mons and Namur reinforced the privileged geographical location of Gosselies
A control tower was constructed in 1960 together with a passenger terminal
and a fire department, especially trained for air crashes with dedicated
equipment. During a transition period from the end of 1957 till the end of
1960, the main activities of Fairey S.A. consisted essentially in I.R.A.N.
contracts for the Belgian Air Force and the French Armée de l'Air. In 1960
SABCA was chosen by the Belgian army, in a momentary partnership with
Fairey, to build the F-104G Starfighter with the first flight of this
aircraft at Gosselies on December 04, 1961. SABCA was to produce the F-104G
for the German Federal Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy.
As to maintain the workload, Fairey had to diversify its production and
turned towards subcontracts such as the 'Alouettes' of Aérospatiale. On
August 22, 1963, S.A. Avions Faitey becomes Fairey S.A. to affirm its
competitive mainstay within the world of modern techniques.
1968 sees the Belgian government deciding to acquire Dassault Mirage V
aircraft to replace its F-84F and RF-84F, already assembled and test flown
by SABCA at Gosselies. That same year Dassault Aviation built an assembling
factory at Gosselies which became operational in November. The company
AMD/BA (Aviation Marcel Dassault / Breguet Aviation) took a share of 50%
into the SABCA fundings (45% Fokker-VFW, 5% public) and created a new
production line on the Gosselies site.
of early Belgian Air Force Stafighter in front of SABCA building in 1963
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
Together with the R.V.A., the Société pour la Promotion de l'Aérodrome de
Charleroi-Gosselies (SPAC) started from 1965 on a series of actions as to
endue the airport, in the medium term, with the minimum required equipment
for the development of passenger transport and cargo (radar, beacons,
customs, reception hall,...). Besides transport, the expansion of business
aviation and general aviation is also contemplated. Two general aviation
manufacturers settled down at Gosselies: SIAI MARCHETTI (DELHAMENDE) and
PIPER. At the start of 1968, the R.V.A. provided a new company building
available for general use together with a new hangar which was due to be
completed and on May 01, 1975 a new terminal capable of handling up to 400
passengers is opened.
After a period of almost total dependence on military programs, Fairey S.A.
regained the construction of civilian aircraft - manufacturing and assembly
of the 'Islander 2, the “Trislander” and the 'Defender'. However, from 1976
on, Fairey starts to have difficulties with the marketing and sales of its
On June 07, 1975, after 5 years of controversy, Belgium decided to acquire
116 General Dynamics F-16 to replace its Lockheed F-104G. SABCA ensured the
manufacturing and final assembly of 174 Belgian and Danish aircraft of which
the first example, FB01, was delivered on June 09, 1978 aboard a Lockheed
C-5A Galaxy of the USAF. The inaugural flight took place on December 19,
1978 with official delivery to the Air Force on January 26, 1979.
Jointly with the F-16 program, SABCA ensured the production of 32 Alpha-Jet
for the Belgian Air Force, the first one being delivered with great
discretion on December 14, 1978, staying into the shadow of the new fighter.
The YF-16 had been withheld by the Belgian authorities to replace the F-104G
Starfighter. The economical offspring for the Belgian aeronautical industry
was huge as the Belgian companies not only would produce parts for the
aircarft of the Belgian Air Force but also for those of other European
countries (Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway) and some support for US
aircraft. SABCA and Fairey were to manufacture the sub-assemblies of the
fuselage, the wings and the flaps of the European aircraft. For Belgium this
offspring represented 58% of the engaged expenses.
On May 03, 1976, on instigation of the “Ministre-Secrétaire d’Etat à
l’Economie Régionale Wallonne” Jean Gol, the town of Liège and Charleroi
were daily connected to London-Heathrow through one flight (departing at
Publi-Air, sub-contractor for Sabena). Financially hazardous, but feasable.
After one year of running, the initial budget had by far been exceeded and
the obtained results stayed disappointing regarding the number of carried
passengers. In January 1978, following several restructurations, the line
Charleroi-London was increased to two flights a day, but the number of
passengers did not change significally and a stop-over at Ostend was
introduced in July 1978.
On July 14, 1976, Fairey S.A. signed a contract with General Dynamics
covering a total amount of 3, 8 billion Belgian francs. The scale of this
contract compelled Fairey to invest 70 million in new facilities and 285
millions in technical equipment and resettlement of workshops. These amounts
were subsidised by the Belgian government. During the first semester of 1977
the fincancial situation of the Groupe Fairey declined rapidly and the
stock-listings of Fairey were suspended at the London stock-exchange. Fairey
Company Ltd could not respond any more to the financial burdens of its
Belgian branch towards its creditors and mainly of the Office National de
Sécurité Sociale (ONSS - National Social Security Office). Together with
political and syndical agencies, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the
Regional Wallon Economy, the liquidators and the direction of Fairey
Gosselies managed to create a company with mixed capitals to take over all
the current contracts.
SONACA is a fact on May 01, 1978 under the leadership of Marcel CLAISSE,
newly appointed managing director. The investments started in 1979 and
unceasingly pursued finally yielded results.
A terminal building (departures-arrivals) with an area of 840 m2 was put
into service in 1984, comprising a public zone, a transit zone and an
arrival zone, all fitted with service rooms.
In 1985 SABCA was awarded a contract for the overhaul of the European based
Cruise missiles. Named European Repair Facility (ERF), the missiles were
treated in the high security hangars of SABCA, built or converted on a
radar-detection protected site, in the most discrete way... The contract was
worth some 220 million Belgian francs.
Gosselies in April 1981 (Serge Van Heertum)
Sonaca facilities (Courtesy Sonaca)
The airport of Charleroi-Brussels South entered a new era on January 01,
1992 when this year saw the achievement of the institutional changes decided
by law of August 08, 1988, which devolved competences in transport matters
to the Regions. Within the frame of the restructuration of certain public
organisms, the Région Wallonne integrated into its missions the previous
competences of the Régie des Voies Aériennes. These missions are mainly
technical: build, convert, maintain and operate airports, airfields and
This law coordinated by the Royal
Decree of March 13, 1991, art. 27, establishes the transfer of goods, rights
and obligations of the Régie des Voies Aériennes to the Région Wallonne. The
cooperation agreement of November 30, 1989 signed with the Belgian State
governs the dispositions to be taken as to give them the means to exercise
their competences entrusted by the institutional reforms of the State. The
Royal Decree of August 05, 1992 transfers the goods, rights and obligations
from the Régie to the Région Wallonne.
On July 07, 1991 a concession
agreement was signed between the Région Wallonne and the S.A. (société
anonyme) Brussels South Charleroi Airport. Since the regionalization, the
infrastructural investments done by the Région Wallonne clearly showed the
dynamical regional and voluntaristic will to develop its airports.
Ultimately during 1998, the R.V.A. was dissociated into two services. The
first one renamed BIAC ensures the management of the airport of Zaventem
(Brussels National Airport) whereas the second one, BELGOCONTROL, ensures
the technical exploitation formerly allotted to the R.V.A. including the
Following this evolution one can find three distinctive authorities on the
Gosselies airport-site, which all need to be coordinated:
ensuring: air traffic control, activities related to the safety of aerial
traffic, meteorological services, observations (flight records) and finally
the maintenance of the technical installations - ILS, radar, gonio,...
2. The management company B.S.C.A. Sa.
3. The public service of Wallonie (D324) : the missions dedicated to the
airport directorate D324 are essentially management and control missions.
The director, under the authority of the Gouvernement Wallon and according
to its delegated powers, organises the necessary operations regarding the
optimal efficiency for its airport activities
Free translation of some
- the surveillance and
maintenance of the installations and facilities being part of the domain
located at Charleroi, belonging to the Région and conceded tot B.S.C.A. Sa.
- the safety and security on the ground as well as the surveillance and
control of the airport of which the exploitation was conceded to B.S.C.A.
- examination of projects and the follow-up of the works to be carried-out
on the airport site when these are financed and/or executed by the Région ;
- the control of the implementation and respect of the standards, national
and international, within the aeronautical domain being defined by decree,
laws, guidelines or regulations ;
- the coordination of the various public and/or private actors directly or
indirectly implicated in the airport activities of Charleroi - Brussels
The Walloon airports having been
conceded to a third party, the direction of the airport is organized in one
department which ensures all the non-conceded tasks and mainly those
regarding the airport inspection, navigation office and airport security.
The Walloon government, during its session of June 06, 1991, decided to
grant a department concession to Brussels South Charleroi Airport Sa
(B.S.C.A. Sa.) regarding the promotion and management of the public domain
of the airport of Charleroi, as well as a national concession for the
permanent and exclusive use of this airport zone.
On July 07, 1991, a concession agreement was signed between the Région
Wallonne and B.S.C.A. Sa., this latter being responsible for the management
of the airport at Charleroi. This agreement determines the part of the
manager and instructs the Walloon Ministry of Equipment and Transport
(M.E.T.) to monitor the compliance to this agreement. Due to the nature of
this public service concession, it is up to the conceding authority to
monitor the compliance of the missions conceded to B.S.C.A. Sa. The
concession is a delegation and not a resignation of services, so the
authority must, at all times, be able to assess this compliance.
The D324 has also to establish inspection reports regarding the good
implementation by the contractor of the maintenance of the infrastructures
and the functionality of its fire department. An evaluation report is made
up annually based on these inspection reports.
The contractor ensures and develops:
- A fire department according to the OACI-standards
- A technical service to maintain the buildings, the runways, the
- Sale of aviation fuel, including the distribution, the fueling of aircraft
and holding the necessary fuel documents
- Management of the general aviation and cargo hangars
- Management and development of the car park services
- Management of the rooms within the administrative, technical and airport
- The cafeteria-restaurant
- Management of advertising spaces
- The handling
- The catering
- The tax-free shop
- Information services to the passengers
- Takes in the airport fees regarding the aerial traffic
The contractor will ensure the
maintenance of the surroundings, buildings, equipment, works and materials
included in the concession or made available to him, in such way it always
corresponds to the use it has been destined to.
control tower (Courtesy Belgocontrol)
May 01, 1997
Ryanair flies from Brussels South Charleroi to Dublin. First legitimization
of the new name. Succes garanteed as the airport recorded 200.000
April 26, 2001
The airport of Brussels South Charleroi becomes the first continental base
of Ryanair. 800.000 passengers counted in 2001. The credibility of the
airport is rising and the low-cost phenomenon in Belgium draws attention
BSCA records 1.271.279 passengers
BSCA records 1.803.587 passengers
July 15, 2004, Wizz-Air, the Hungarian low-cost company opens the line
Warsaw - Budapest
On December 20, BSCA hits it's 2.000.000 passenger. 2004 is concluded with
2.034.797 recorded passengers
BSCA records 1.873.349 passengers.
The increase in passenger numbers is such that the actual terminal is
becoming to small to handle all these passengers. The construction of a new
terminal is started
Traffic on BSCA represents 15% of the traffic at Brussels National, against
1% in 2000.
The number of passengers reaches 2.166.915.
Arrival of the Belgian company Jet4You on November 01 and opening of the new
line towards Casablanca
Arrival of Private Wings and launch of the line to Ingolstadt on November
The new terminal, with a capacity to handle up to 3.000.000 passengers is
inaugurated officially by his Majesty Prince Philippe on January 28
Installation of an ILS (Instrument Landing System) Category III. This ILS
allows aerial operations in very low visiblity conditions. In other words,
aircraft can land and take-off in less than favourable meteorological
Arrival of Jetairfly and Air Arabia Maroc. The destination range doubled and
in October 2009 a new record was set with more than 3.000.000 passengers
On the military side... The
Moroccon Air Force and the USAF : the head lines...
Besides the maintenance programs
of the Belgian Air Force, SABCA can brag participating in major maintenance
or modification programs. Let's recall the MIRSIP program, the modernisation
of the Alpha Jet, etc...
Long-time partner of the USAF, the company based at Gosselies assembled some
330 F-16A and C for his American customer since 1983. In 2001 he company was
awarded a contract, in cooperation with the Ogden Air Logistic Center
(OO-ALC) to integrate the NVIS-IDM program into the F-16C & D and Block 40.
In March 2005 another contract was signed with the American government, to
know, the fulfilment of the 'Depot Level' maintenances of the complete F-16
fleet of the USAFE.
In Februray 2000 a contract was signed for the inspections, repairs, updates
and paint of the A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet based in Europe. The
professionalism of the Belgian manpower, much to the satisfaction of the
customer, made that the contract was reconducted for another 5 years in
2009. But the decision of the American authorities to withdraw its
tankbuster from Europe changed the issue for the Belgian industry with a
significant decrease of the workload.
End 2008 and during 2009, flight testing opened possibilities to carry and
fire new equipment’s with the Mirage F1. These tests were conducted aboard
Mirage F1CR n° 602, under the mastery of Dassault Aviation.
The Belgian company SABCA was awarded the implementation of the systems onto
two modified Moroccan aircraft prototypes; the first one had its inaugural
flight in October 2009 from the airport Charleroi-Gosselies and the second
prototype flew in February 2010. Once the navigational tests completed in
Belgium, the aircraft departed to Morocco for their operational test phase.
At last do take note of the fact that the Belgian aeronautical companies
based at Gosselies are important participants in running projects such as
the Airbus A350 or the A400M, which one day will proudly fly in our Belgian
colours. The companies are also involved in spatial industry, as much on the
satellite-level as on the launchers level such as the Ariane rocket.
As we can see, the little airfield of Charleroi-Gosselies became an
important cluster into the Belgian aeronautical scenery. Development of
passenger transport and the adroitness of the aeronuatical industries are
the key-stones and although the future will not always be bright, the
Belgian aeronautical willingness is still present.
Fairchild A-10 overhaul (Courtesy Sabca)
Aerial view of Brussels South airport (Courtesy BSCA)
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