This British Aerospace 146-300 (BAe 146-300), registered as 5X-AAZ for its future operator, Ugandan air cargo company Zone Four, is powered by 4 Lycoming ALF-502 turbofans and can seat between 97 and 112 passengers. It has had an interesting history, having not being taken up twice and being one of the few BAe 146s to operate as a cargo aircraft. Only 221 BAe 146s have been produced, for a time period of 18 years (1983 to 2001), as well as 166 Avro RJs (an improved version of the BAE 146, powered by Lycoming LF-507s, produced from 1992 to 2001) assembled by Avro International Aerospace, a company set up by BAe to specifically produce Avro RJ types at Woodford Aerodrome near Manchester. The BAe 146 and Avro RJ aircraft series are the pride of London to Geneva or Zurich routes, having served commuters between these financial hubs from 1993 to 2017 (34 years). Strangely enough for a British aircraft, it was never operated by British Airways, but mainly by small Western European carriers for short-haul flights. Sadly, few of these aircraft remain in service, apart from with some airlines in Iran and Australia (a total of 75 aircraft in service, by my count), but it remains my all-time favourite, combining chubbiness with a comfortable take-off (when you sit in the back, it’s a bit noisy).
5X-AAZ started out its career with Hertfordshire-based (to the north of London) cargo and executive charter airline Air Foyle in June 1990 under the registration number G-TNTE (note the ‘TNT’ radical). Having begun operations in 1978, Air Foyle started out as a small service provider that would deliver packages overnight throughout Northern Europe (not Scandinavia, but Germany and Belgium). In the mid to late 80s, the airline enlarged its services using jet-powered aircraft (especially Boeing 737s and BAC 111s) by mainly operating for TNT International Aviation, then an Australian transport and logistics company. In 1987, TNT placed an order for 72 BAe 146 aircraft, and Air Foyle was given the contract to operate them. 5X-AAS, was the 4th of these aircraft, produced in the BAE aircraft assembly unit in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. However, only 16 BAe 146s were delivered to Air Foyle. At the same time period, Air Foyle began ordering aerial observation aircraft, such as the Edgley EA-7 Optica, a light observation aircraft powered by a Lycoming IO-320 piston engine (I meaning a fuel-injected engine and O signifying opposed, where half the engine’s cylinders are on one side of the crankshaft [where all the engine’s movement is based from] and the remaining half on the other, in an O shape). In the early 90s, Air Foyle also expanded services by contracting two 24 hour surveillance aircraft for Oil Spill Response Limited (which still exists to this day), as alert mechanisms in the case of an oil spill. Air Foyle ceased operations as an airline in 2000, although it became a 50% shareholder in Air Foyle HeavyLift, along with HeavyLift Cargo Airlines, mainly acting as a mangement company for Antonov’s (a Ukrainian plane manufacturer) AN-124 heavy cargo aircraft and a sales agent for Antonov’s cargo airline subsidiary Antonov Airlines until 2006.
In the year 2000, G-TNTE was transferred to TNT Airways, a newly formed airline created by the acquisition of Australian TNT International Aviation by Dutch postal service company KPN in 1998, (in existence from 1752, the K in KPN stands for Koninklijke [king], probably used as a messaging service between the king and his subordinates [dukes, counts and other vassals]; now also offers telegraph and telephone services throughout Western Europe) and re-registered as OO-TAJ. The reason for which the new airline was based in the Netherlands (where FedEx in also based) is the country’s ideal geographical location: in a world dominated by Western Europe and the USA, it could access almost all financially important countries via a central location at an almost equal distance of the UK, France and Germany at the same time as being near some of the world’s main political decision-making nations, Belgium and Switzerland.
One could ask why the UK or Ireland wouldn’t be a better choice: the Netherlands is the center of the world’s oil shipment industry and the country has a long history of trading and shipping produce for export and import (especially in the colonial days for food imports, the reason for Holland’s long-lasting rule in the Caribbean), so the combination of proximity to political and financial hubs as well as being the center for the global cargo industry makes the Netherlands the best location out of which to base a globally conducted air-postal service.
Following this move to Europe, our BAe 146-300 was transferred to PAN Air Lineas Aereas in Spain, a TNT Airways subsidiary based in Madrid, in July 2014, and re-registered as EC-MCK. PAN Air had been in existence since 1987, but was bought by TNT Airways in 1998 and incorporated into TNT Airways’ Spanish postal division, TNT Express Spain. In 2011, TNT Express completely separated from its parent company (TNT Airways, which was renamed PostNL and significantly reduced operations to 5 countries). Then, in a 2016 deal between Irish cargo flight operator ASL Airlines Ireland and FedEx, Pan Air’s parent company TNT Express was bought and renamed ASL Airlines Belgium and Pan Air itself was also bought by ASL and renamed ASL Airlines Spain, but as a condition, FedEx would have to wholly acquire TNT Express (separated from TNT Airways as of 2011), therefore dividing all remaining competition for cargo routes between ASL and FedEx. This may be confusing, but let me explain: ASL wanted to strongarm the European cargo market , and to do this would have to acquire its competitors. Its main competitor was TNT Express, so by dividing TNT Express’s European and international subsidiaries respectively between ASL and FedEx, ASL would gain a monopoly on the entirety of the Western European air cargo industry. By this time, PostNL wasn’t playing any role in the affairs between FedEx and ASL. ASL wished to take over the small, European subsidiaries that belonged to TNT Express. FedEX wanted to simply take over TNT Express, without the European subsidiaries, to give itself the international monopoly. The price of the deal was $5.29 billion (€4.4 billion). PostNL was never subsidised by FedEx.
The deal went through, and Pan Air was bought by ASL Airlines Ireland and renamed ASL Airlines Spain. EC-MCK therefore belonged to ASL Airlines Spain, for whom it operated from May 2016 to its withdrawl from use at the end of July 2018. The next month, ASL Airlines Spain ceased operations with 8 BAe 146s in its fleet, after having operated a total of 15 BAe 146s under the PAN Air brandname and the ASL Airlines Spain brandname. This was because its parent company, ASL Airlines Ireland wished to restructure the company and stated that ASL Airlines Spain’s BAe 146 aircraft didn’t meet the company’s needs, nor had enough power, due to their poor range and capacity requirements. EC-MCK, along with EC-LOF were to be delivered to minor German charter airline WDL Aviation. They were both taken up, but unlike EC-LOF, EC-MCK never entered commercial service as a cargo plane with the airline. After the ceasing of ASL Airlines Spain’s operations, 1 of their other BAe 146s, EC-LMR, was sent to Australian passenger and cargo airline Pionair Australia. EC-LOF was sent to this airline in August 2019 , and although EC-MCK (our aircraft) was intended to operate for Pionair Australia, it wasn’t taken up. It is probable that Pionair made the decision to not operate it before December 2019, as it is reported in the airline’s December 2019 newsletter that Pionair will operate 3 BAe 146-300s, all of which have been delivered, EC-MCK not being one of the 3 aircraft delivered.
EC-MCK is waiting to operate for Ugandan cargo carrier Zone Four under the registration number 5X-AAZ. Will it not be taken up for a third time in a row? Such a hard-working, long-lasting aircraft, which is now 31 and a half years old deserves better. EC-LMR, has had a similar fate, but less disastrous, having not being taken up by WDL Aviation, but now flying for Pionair Australia since July last year. On the positive, maybe a sunny retirement in Uganda will be of preference to this fatigued aircraft: be sure to follow its fate, on Aeronews24. 2nd of May 2021.