Twin-engine 152 seat transport aircraft
To replace the Airbus A330-300 leased from the Portuguese airline HiFly trough French airline broker Avico of which the contract was coming to an end, the Belgian Defence opted for a smaller sized single aisle (or narrow-body) airliner which could fulfil most of the tasks of the A330 and this at a significant lower operating cost (savings of up to 4 Mio Euro a year were/are projected).
Belgian Defence was given the green light by the Council of Ministers on 22 April 2013 to start a tender procedure for which finally 3 companies submitted 5 offers by 28 August 2013. These included proposals for 3 Boeing 757 and two Airbus A321 aircraft. The best and final offer was selected by 31 October 2013 which led to the signature of Contract 13AP.002 with the French Company Avico (also responsible for the A330 lease). The contract for the lease of a single Airbus A321 includes all aircraft maintenance and insurance, provision of a replacement aircraft in case of unavailability within a 3 day's notice, provision of additional aircraft upon request from Belgian Defence and the possibility to lease back the dedicated aircraft to 3rd parties.
The aircraft (in casu Airbus A321-231 CS-TRJ) has been tailored to the requirements of the Belgian Air Force and includes the required cabin configuration, installation of an auxiliary central fuel tank and installation of a cargo loading system. With the installation of the additional fuel tank the maximum range becomes 5.550km or 4300km with a full load of 153 passengers bringing the US East coast within reach from Melsbroek airbase. If a larger range or capacity is needed the Belgian Air Force can still utilise other equipment within the EATC (European Air Transport Command) as since 07 April 2014 the new A321 officially came under the operational control of the European Air Transport Command in Eindhoven. Reversing the habit of painting their passenger carrying aircraft white (giving them the Belgian Air Force nickname "white products") the Belgian Air Force decided to paint the Airbus A321 in a more "military" overall grey colour scheme. (D. Brackx)