Presentation & Text: Serge Van Heertum & Marc Arys - Pictures: As mentionned sbap 2014

It was in presence of Mr Pieter De Crem, Minister of Defence that the new Airbus 321 of the Belgian Air Force was officially presented to the media on May 20, 2014. The decision to abandon the Airbus 330 program, being much too expensive, was taken in December 2012. The problem with a wide body aircraft (WBA) is the overcapacity and cost effectiveness of such an aircraft and of course the missing capacity of a narrow body aircraft (NBA) within the European Air Transport Command (EATC).

Very soon the choice of the Defence cabinet turned towards the A321, capable of carrying from 176 to 200 passengers depending on the fitting of the cabin. Following the approval of the Council of Ministers on April 22, 2013 for a negotiated procedure with publication, the selection of six candidates (out of 12) was done based upon the economical and technical capabilities of the offers (the final requirements can be found at the end of this article).

An invitation to tender was sent to the selected candidates on July 05, 2013 with the submission of tenders no later than August 28, 2013. 3 companies handed in 5 offers (3 B757 and 2 B321) and after the negotiation phase were due to submit their best and final offer by October 31, 2013. Following an evaluation phase, the Minister of Defence decided on December 02, 2013 to award the contract to Avico of France based upon their technical, operational criteria including the costs of fuel consumption. The contract was notified to the firm on December 24, 2013. A nice Christmas present as told by Lt Col Leroy during his presentation.

With the A330, the Defence resorted to an innovating formula leasing an airplane from a civil company, in this case Hi Fly from Portugal and a French go-between Avico, and keeping their own Air Force crews. Of course the A321 has a lesser capacity of passenger numbers, cargo capabilities and has a smaller range capacity but will be less expensive to operate (about four million euros a year).

Avico handed also in an optional proposal, without being asked in the invitation to tender, in being able to convert the A321 into a medical evacuation capable aircraft, something the European air forces are greatly devoiced of today.

One of the key arguments which played a part in choosing a smaller aircraft was the demand for such a plane formulated by the EATC at Eindhoven in Holland. Indeed, the staff of the EATC was looking for an aircraft offering more flexibility and complementarily with the actual fleet of the other members (Germany, France, the Netherlands and Spain). By creating this joint command the use of a solely Belgian tactical transport aircraft is out of question.

As soon as the decision was known, pictures of the A321 were all over the net, showing the temporary Irish registration or with a Belgian flag on the tail (sometimes even the wrong way around...).

The aircraft with construction n c/n 1004 was build in 1999 and is a A321-231 and flew its test flights registered as D-AVZI. It was delivered to the Aero-Lloyd company (D-ALAK) on April 23, 1999. Aero-Lloyd transferred the aircraft to International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC) on October 10, 2003. Thereafter D-ALAK moved to the Turkish company Onur Air on April 20, 2004 to become registered as TC-AOL. The aircraft was in service until November 2013 and then returned to ILFC. Before integrating the Hi Fly fleet to be leased to Belgium registration EI-FDP was applied for the test flights following a major overhaul in November 2013 with the installation of completely revised International Aero Engines V2533-A5.

On March 14, 2014 A321 c/n 1004 was registered CS-TRJ and delivered to Belgium some days later and hangared to finalise the fitting out. The Belgian Air Force A321 made a first test flight on April 07, 2014, a return trip from Brussels EBMB to Bordeaux LFBD, with the call signs BAF631 - BAF632. April 10, 2014 saw a 'full charge' test flight with passengers and cargo.

After the flight, the aircraft returned to the hangar to be fitted out with an auxiliary central fuel tank and a cargo loading system. The addition of this auxiliary tank increases the range, but penalizes the load capacity.

Unlike the A330, the A321 sports a uniform grey paint scheme. This colour was chosen as the colour for tactical air transport and to allow the A321 to be integrated into the fleet of the member countries of the EATC.

A much controverter item was the presence of the Belgian flag on the vertical tail. They were applied, and then removed... From our information sources it could be a problem of international rights stating that an aircraft registered in Portugal can not wear the flag of another country. Strange when we think of the colour scheme of the A330.

Nevertheless, the Belgian flags were present on the tail during the official presentation on May 20, 2014.

To conclude Lt Col Avi De Winter commented on some technical figures of the A321 and confirming the first operational mission to Mali on May 15, 2014. 9 pilots (7 A330 and 2 C-130) are already qualified on the A321 as is all cabin personnel of the 21 Sqn. 

Following the acceptation and official presentation, the circle has now been completed and the aircraft can be fully integrated in the Air Force fleet (after fitting of the cargo loading system) at the disposal of EATC.

 

 

Final requirements - specifications 13AP.002:

 

- Service contract AMI (Aircraft/Maintenance/Insurance) for +/- 1.500 flight hours with a committed minimum of 1.250 flight hours

- One dedicated aircraft: Airbus A321 or Boeing 757 or equivalent NBA

- Range of approximately 3.500 nautical miles within a flight duty period of 13 hours

- Passagers:

         min 150 paps

         12 business seats

         4 lie-flat seats

- cargo :

         loaded in containers or onto pallets

         10 tons / 40m3

- Belgian Defence paint scheme

- Belgian Defence crew (cockpit and cabin); training to be provided

- Maintenance and support services to be provided except :

         cargo-handling

         de-icing

         standard servicing (fuel, water & waste, cooling & heating)

- Worldwide operations

- High level of service reliability (> 90%)

- Replacement aircraft in case of immobilization of more than 3 days

- Possibility for an additional aircraft when requested

- Possibility to 'lease-back' the dedicated aircraft for third parties

Aero Lloyd  D-ALAK (Courtesy Michel Bourgeois) Onur Air with Aero Lloyd paint TC-OAL (Serge Van Heertum)
Onur Air TC-OAL (Serge Van Heertum) EI-FDP during heavy maintenance (Courtesy Mike Greenwood)
In the Lufthansa Technics facilities (Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
Cockpit (Serge Van Heertum) The cabin (Serge Van Heertum)
(Marc Arys) (Marc Arys)
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum)
Before flag removing, nose gear and main door (Serge Van Heertum)

CS-TRJ (Christian De Brabanter)

At gate 16... (Christian De Brabanter)
First night on the apron (Christian De Brabanter) (Christian De Brabanter)
BAF 631 ready for push back on April 07th, 2014 (Christian De Brabanter)
(Christian De Brabanter) (Christian De Brabanter)
(Christian De Brabanter) Landing 25R (Serge Van Heertum)

BAF 632 landing (Christian De Brabanter)

Marshalling (Christian De Brabanter)
(Christian De Brabanter) (Christian De Brabanter)
(Christian De Brabanter)
The only day with both A330 and A321 on the tarmac
(Christian De Brabanter)
A330 was back from Rwanda on April 09th and left definitively
Melsbroek at 07:15 local the same day (Christian De Brabanter)

The A321 waiting the first missions (Christian De Brabanter)

Last handling A330 (Christian De Brabanter)
The A330 left definitively Brussels on April 9th, 2014 at 07:15 local (Serge Van Heertum)
First full pax and freight trial flight (15 Wing - Filip Wouters) Loadmaster in the cargo bay (15 Wing - Filip Wouters)
Cockpit crew (15 Wing - Filip Wouters) Cabin crew (15 Wing - Filip Wouters)
(15 Wing - Filip Wouters) Ready to be pushed... (15 Wing - Filip Wouters)
Cabin crew safety demonstration (15 Wing - Filip Wouters)
Follow the rules... (15 Wing - Filip Wouters) Cockpit briefing (15 Wing - Filip Wouters)
Test flight of April 10th is ove (15 Wing - Filip Wouters) (15 Wing - Filip Wouters)
May 20th, the press presentation (Marc Arys)
Kolonel Vli K. Hillewaert (Marc Arys) Mister Pieter de Crem, Minister of Defense (Marc Arys)
Lt Col Leroy (Marc Arys) Lt Col Avi De Winter (Marc Arys)
The national press spending a visit to the new coming (Marc Arys) (Marc Arys)
Handling material was also showed (Marc Arys) Will be soon fully ready for operations (Marc Arys)

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