A new Airbus for the Air Force


In the late afternoon of 25 October 2009 long haul, wide body Airbus A330-322 CS-TMT arrived at Melsbroek Air Base to augment the white fleet of the 15th Transport Wing.

Airbus A330-300 CS-TMT

IN SEARCH FOR AN A310 REPLACEMENT

 

Since quite some time the Belgian Air Force encountered reliability problems with its now almost a quarter of a century old Airbus A310-222 wide-body transport aircraft. CA-01 (MSN 372) and CA-02 (MSN 367) made their first flights on 19 March 1985 and 21 February 1985 respectively and entered service with the Belgian Air Force in September 1997 and May 1998 after more than a decade of service with Singapore Airlines as 9V-STN and 9V-STM. Especially the aircrafts’ Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7R4E1 engines regularly caused problems and spare engines or spare parts for the engines are becoming more and more rare nowadays. Their low availability rate not only severely hampered the military operations of the Belgian Defence abroad, but also affected the prestige of the Air Force when the aircraft became unserviceable during high visibility political meetings or trade missions.

Airbus A310 CA-01

The introduction of the new A330-322 does not mean that both A310s will disappear from the Air Force’s inventory immediately. CA-02 needs a major overhaul at present, but as no budget is available to do so, the aircraft is sitting idle in a corner of the Melsbroek apron. CA-01, however, will continue to fly for some time.

On 18 December 2008 the Belgian Ministry of Defence published a tender for the dry lease of a wide-body aircraft to augment the transport capacity of the white fleet of the 15th Transport Wing. The tender was limited to wide-bodies of the type Airbus A300, A310, A330 or A340 and Boeing B767-200ER or -300ER (Extended Range) and called for the provision of 2,000 flight hours on an annual basis between 1 June 2009 and 31 December 2012. As the tender involved dry leasing an aircraft, the tenderer would also be responsible for pilot and cabin crew training.

 Six offers were submitted and three of these were evaluated. ABELAG (Association belge d’Aviation Générale) and SABENA Technics, now part of the French TAT Group, submitted proposals based upon the lease of a Boeing B767. The third submitter, Avico, a Paris headquartered broker providing airline-to-airline lease capacity throughout the world, proposed Airbus A330-322 MSN 096 of the Portuguese long haul/wide-body wet lessor specialist Hifly. It was the latter offer that secured the tender, without doubt because of its advantageous financial aspect as 70% of the total weight of the allocation criteria was given to overall costs.

 Apart from providing airline-to-airline lease capacity, Avico also offers last minute charters to governments and for crisis operations and has general agreements with the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense, the French Defense Ministry, the Danish Air Force and the International Criminal Court. It brokers aircraft of more than 200 airlines at present.

  

THE STORY OF MSN 096

 The Airbus A330 with manufacturer serial number 096 and test registration F-WWKP performed its maiden flight from Toulouse-Blagnac on 12 April 1995. As it is powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney PW4168 engines, it is a -322 variant. The aircraft was built for Los Angeles headquartered aircraft lessor International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC).

 ILFC’s first customer for the Airbus A330 MSN 096 was the government-owned flag carrier Malaysia Airlines, which took delivery of the aircraft on 11 January 1996. The airliner was registered 9M-MKZ and flew in a configuration with 12 first class, 56 business class and 213 economy class seats. When the airliner joined SABENA Belgian World Airlines as OO-SFX on 14 April 1999 it received a two-class cabin configuration with 50 business class and 222 economy class seats. SABENA ceased operations on 7 November 2001.

 On 4 December 2002 the aircraft was leased to Air Luxor, a Portugal based private airline established in 1988 when the wealthy Mirpuri family transformed its small fleet of private aircraft into an airline company. Air Luxor operated Airbus A319 and A320 airliners for medium haul flights and A330s for long haul flights. MSN 096 became CS-TMT and its cabin was reconfigured once more and now has 42 business class and 236 economy class seats. From 10 January 2004 onwards Air Luxor subleased the aircraft for about three months to the Indonesian national airline Garuda Indonesia. When business started to slacken in 2005 part of the Air Luxor fleet was sold and the remainder was rebranded as Hifly, a long haul/wide-body wet lessor specialist at present operating worldwide with a fleet of two Airbus 310s, two Airbus A330s and two Airbus A340s. CS-TMT was leased to Brisbane based Strategic Aviation which operated it on behalf of the Royal Australian Air Force for troop transports to and from Kuwait and Afghanistan from 11 October 2005 till September 2009. The aircraft was flown to Schiphol Airport for a C-check with KLM on 1 October 2009. Its delivery flight to the Belgian Air Force took place on 25 October 2009.

 

THE RETURN OF THE AIR FORCE

 

Painting the leased aircraft in the colours of the Belgian Defence was the only element of the tender that was optional. SC-TMT was partially repainted when it underwent its C-check with KLM. When the aircraft arrived for the first time at Brussels Airport/Melsbroek Airbase, it only sported Belgian Air Force titles on the lower front fuselage. When asked for the reason of the change of titles from Belgian Defence into Belgian Air Force, Minister of Defence Pieter De Crem replied that “The Belgian Air Force has always been a real Air Force, not a Component. If it were not so expensive to change the names of the Components into Forces again, it would already have been done.”

Airbus A330CS-TMT

When the Airbus returned to Melsbroek from its second stay with KLM between 8 and 15 November 2009, it sported the logo of the Ministry of Defence on the tail and the Belgian national colours all along the top of the fuselage and on the outer side of the winglets.

Airbus A330-300 CS-TMT

The Air Force titles on the front fuselage, the national colours on the winglets and on the top fuselage, and the logo of the Ministry of Defence on the tail fin give the aircraft a very Belgian look from the outside. At or from the inside, however, nothing indicates the Belgian identity of the new aircraft.

THE LARGEST AIRCRAFT EVER

 

With its length of 63.60 metres and its wingspan of 60.30 metres the Airbus A330-322 is by far the largest aircraft ever to fly in the colours of the Belgian Air Force. Because of its maximum takeoff weight of 215 tons, the aircraft cannot park everywhere on the apron of Melsbroek Air Base. That is why the opportunity is seized to reinforce the weakest spots now that the apron’s surface is being repaired with a view on the Belgian presidency of the European Union during the second half of 2010.

 

The Airbus A330-322 can not only accommodate 278 passengers, but it can also transport a substantial volume of cargo and baggage. Cargo and baggage may be containerised, palletised or loaded in bulk in three under floor compartments. The forward and aft compartments accept cargo in half or full size containers and on pallets. The bulk cargo compartment measures almost 20 m³ and can accommodate up to 3.5 tons. The aircraft’s volumetric payload is 45 tons.

Airbus A330-300 CS-TMT

Two of the three cockpit crew of Flight BAF691 on 19 November 2009: left, Senior Captain Philippe Antoine and right, Instructor Pilot Peter Holemans, a former SABENA Airbus A330/A340 captain and now flying with Hifly. Eventually, eight Belgian Air Force pilots will qualify on the A330.

With a range of 10,500 kilometres (5,669 nautical miles) with maximum passengers on board the Airbus A330-322 gives the Belgian Air Force its longest legs ever. Fully loaded, it can fly non-stop to Afghanistan, Central Africa or across the Atlantic.

 

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 © Jos Schoofs (November 2009)

 

Last updated 26/11/09 16:00   Daniel Brackx

daniel.brackx@telenet.be