The first Belgian-Luxembourg Airbus A400M reaches its home base in Melsbroek

Par ediallo - 10 October, 2020 - 17:55

The Airbus A400M Atlas is the first of eight transport aircraft designed to operate within a Belgian-Luxembourg unit.

The first of eight Airbus A400M Atlas transport aircraft to operate within a Belgian-Luxembourg unit based at Melsbroek military airport - the only Grand Ducal aircraft - arrived Friday morning at its home base from Luxembourg, where it was welcomed on Wednesday.

The large military transport aircraft, a four-engine, grey-pound aircraft, landed at around 10.45 a.m. using runway 25R (right) of Brussels National Airport, adjacent to the military base. Two fire trucks copiously watered it, as is traditional in the aeronautical world, for important events, as the many journalists present on the spot noted.

The aircraft, registered CT-01, flew around Belgium in the hands of a mixed Belgian-Luxembourgish crew. It is the first military aircraft owned by the Grand Duchy since the withdrawal of light aircraft in 1968.

The A400M was welcomed by the Defence Ministers of the two countries, Ludivine Dedonder and François Bausch - who had boarded the aircraft with a delegation from Luxembourg. Both praised the "excellence" of the intense cooperation between the two countries in many areas, from training to operations and joint procurement programmes.

Belgium and the Grand Duchy had decided as early as 2001 to acquire and operate eight of these new-generation aircraft, including one from Luxembourg, they both recalled.

The Luxembourg A400M, serial number MSN 104 (the 104th built, out of the 174 ordered to date by seven European countries and Malaysia), made its first flight on 14 April last in Seville, in the midst of the coronavirus health crisis that had affected Airbus' activities. It should have been delivered last May, almost 19 years after the contract was signed in December 2001.

Arriving Wednesday evening in Luxembourg, it was presented on Thursday to the authorities of both countries, including Grand Duke Henri, before reaching its Main Operating Base (MOB) at Melsbroek in anticipation of the delivery of the seven Belgian aircraft by the end of 2023, which will replace the almost fifty-year-old C-130 Hercules.

In Melsbroek, Mrs Dedonder, who had been in office for a week, stressed the "intense" and "diverse" military cooperation that had been established between the two countries, a partnership that she felt was part of a European defence that she wanted to see strengthened.

She explained that one of her main projects as minister during this parliamentary term would be the "modernisation of our army". "In the future, Defence would be able to use state of the art equipment. This new tactical and strategic transport capability is in line with that ambition", she stressed.

For his part, Mr Bausch thanked Belgium, and in particular its air component, for its "constant support in this exemplary cooperation".

He stressed that the eight A400Ms would be used "without distinction of nationality", while the Luxembourg army would provide three crews (six pilots and six loadmasters).

The A400M, the result of cooperation between seven European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Turkey), is capable of transporting up to 37 tonnes of freight over 4,500 km or 17 tonnes over 5,800 km and of dropping 116 parachutists in a single pass. However, the total cost of the programme has risen, due to delays and technical difficulties, from €20 billion to more than €30 billion.

The single A400M grand-ducal will be operated jointly by the Belgian and Luxembourg armies within the 20th squadron of the 15th air transport wing, based at Melsbroek, which is to become binational. It bears both the grand-ducal cocards - a red lion on blue and white stripes - and, near the left front door, the Sioux's head, the emblem of the 15th wing of the Belgian Air component.

Luxembourg had not had an air force since the withdrawal of three Piper PA-18 Super Cub light observation aircraft in 1968. It also agreed to provide NATO's Awacs radar aircraft with a civil-military grand-ducal registration.