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European Air Transport Command: Declaration of Full Operational Capability
Published: October 2013
Within Europe there are a couple of initiatives on sharing and pooling of resources: combined purchase (C-17A Globemaster III, Heavy Airlift Wing – HAW, Papa air base Hungary), combined future purchase (European Defence Agency – EDA, new air to air Refueling aircraft) and the European Air Transport Command - EATC (already established five country participation where transport and refueling aircraft are operated out of a pool to fulfill the nations transport needs).

The EATC was founded by four EU / NATO countries on September 1st, 2010. Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands signed an agreement to operate a combined fleet of air transport-, air-to-air refueling- and Aeromedical Evacuation aircraft. On December 12th, 2012 Luxembourg joined the founding nations and maintains a special position as it’s the only member not having its own Air Force.  This will change when Luxembourg will receive its first (and only) aircraft the Airbus Military A400M. Each member is free to offer resources, but must generally hand over their aircraft by Transfer of Authority (ToA) . While most of the Participating Nations aircraft are TOA (160), there are still national air transport needs the EATC has yet no principle access to:

- France remains some C-135 Tanker (nuclear fleet) as well as some remote tactical national elements back (for instance in far former colonies areas).

- Germany chose to keep its “white fleet” currently existing of one Airbuses A310VIP, two A319CJ , two A340 and four Bombardier Global 5000s out of the EATC pool of aircraft.

- Belgium has so far not granted access to its VIP fleet (Embraer and Dassault Falcon). This will change by the end of this year.

Nevertheless the nations are always able - by a simple email – to reassign their aircraft, which is called RTOA. This everyday changing situation of a gaining and declining pool of aircraft can - theoretically - comprise the Netherlands reassignment of all transportation assets consisting of 334 squadron Gulfstream G-IV and McDonnell Douglas DC-10 (cargo) and two KDC-10 (AAR, cargo) as well as the 336 squadron with its fleet of Hercules (C-130H / C-130H30). Theoretically such a development would be an exception to the rule: But if the Netherlands would maintain all their fleet at once, other EATC aircraft would meanwhile take over their job. The EATC is headquartered at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands which is also home to the Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu – Royal Netherlands Air Force) transport aircraft. The staff is made up of members of the five participation nations and is right now in command by French Air Force Major General Pascal Valentin. The deputy commander and Chief of Staff is German Air Force Brigadier General Jörg Lebert. Both positions manning rotates every two years between Germany and France.

EATC is divided into two divisions: Operational Division and Functional Division, whose “Heads” are Belgian and Dutch. Positions rotate every three years.

Operational division (Pooling/Sharing assets) Functional division (center of expertise)
Long Term Plans Employment
Tasking Technical and Logistical
Mission Control Training and Exercises
MEAT Branch  
AECC (Aeromedical Evacuation Center)  

A total of 170 persons are assigned: 66 Germany, 54 France, 27 Netherlands, 22 Belgium and 1 Luxembourg. For 2013 the EATC received a budget of 3.2 mln Euro. EATC main objective is the improvement of effectiveness and efficiency of the participant’s air transport efforts. Residing above the EATC chain of command is the MATraC (Multinational Air Transport Committee) which is made up of the representatives of the nations at Air Chief level. MATraC itself reports to the national Air Force staff.

An overview of flying squadrons controlled by EATC can be found in the table at the bottom of this article.

From start to Full Operational Capability (FOC)

The main change for the Air Forces of the member nations has been the transfer of its assets to EATC. Where as in the past aircraft tasking was done on national basis this is now performed by teams within EATC. A request for a mission will be send to the planning team who then will check which available aircraft is the best to be assigned to that mission which for instance will see a Belgian C-130 Hercules fly a mission on behalf of the German Air Force and a Dutch KDC-10 refueling aircraft will provide fuel to Belgian F-16s. A benefit within EATC is that no money for services will be paid but services are calculated in flying hours. The hours of the C-130 and C-160 are valued equal but for a DC-10 2.05 hours are calculated. Till Luxembourg has its own aircraft the MoD has to pay for these hours. The EATC offers several services to its partners:

VIP flights: tasked to the KLu Gulfstream G-IV. This can be conducted till the Gulfstream will be withdrawn from use which is currently set at December 31st, 2013.

Strategic transport: big loads and long distances. The nature of these flights can be compared with flight by FedEx etc. Aircraft used are the French Airbus A340, and A310, German A310MRTT, Belgian A330 and Dutch DC-10/KDC-10.

Tactical transport: transportation of cargo and personnel on short or medium distances, support of para droppings or support on close air support missions.

AeroMedical Evacuation: transportation of injured soldiers.  The German Air Force has one of its A310MRTT configured as medevac aircraft at all times.

Air-to-Air refueling: strategically tasked to German A310MRTT or Dutch KDC-10, tactically also to French Transall.

As example of above the EATC manages flights to Uzbekistan from where mission are flown into Afghanistan. Twice a week a German Air Force A310MRTT flies from its home base Köln to Uzbekistan for the Belgian, German and Netherlands Air Forces. Personnel and/or cargo from Belgium and the Netherlands are transported with busses or trucks. It’s save these nations their own flights which can now be utilized for other missions. Managing flights like this saves flying hours and extends the service life of the aircraft. During the FOC meeting Dutch Commodore van Luyt explained the benefits. “Operating the air transport fleet together increases the effectiveness as well as better utilizes the aircraft. The payloads on aircraft also increased. For the KLu the EATC is the first point of contact for air transport missions”. In case EATC can’t support a mission, for instance for oversized cargo, the KLu can make use of the HAW with its C-17s where by its partnership its allocated annual flight hours.

After three years of operations the representatives of the five member nations signed the Full Operational Capability declaration on November 28th, 2013.

The full text of the declaration:

The Military Air Transport Committee, satisfied with the (EATC) achievements in the frame of combined air transport, air-to-air refueling, and aero medical evacuation operations and force generation, appreciative of the (EATC) personnel’s performance and commitment, acknowledging the gains of synergy, improvements of standardization, mutual understanding and cooperation among the EATC nations operating together and preparing the future of air transport and air-to-air refueling in Europe, noting that the necessary criteria in terms of operational management, integration into the national chains of command, human resources and information technology are sufficiently met hereby declares the European Air Transport Command’s Full Operation Capability.

A delegation of the Spanish Air Force headed by general Garcia Arnaiz was present at the signing ceremony.

EATC challenges and expansion

The EATC has a number of challenges. The number of available aircraft is decreasing as the Transall is nearing the end of its service life and the aircraft who run out of flying hours are withdrawn from use by the French and German Air Forces. At the same time the new airlifter has to be delivered and out of 103 ordered by both countries only two have been delivered to the French Air Force. ET 01.061 based at Orleans has temporarily been withdrawn from EATC as its now trains its crews both pilots and maintainers and is working on its initial operational capability. The advantage of the cooperation within EATC is the sharing of best practices which will help all of the Air Forces with the introduction into service. As side effect the available number of transport aircraft is decreasing as the Transall is withdrawn from service by both the German and French Air Forces. On the other hand the EATC will not run in trouble: daily 50 – 80 assets worldwide missions means also, that nearly half of the TOA aircraft are not in daily use.

The second main challenge is to cope with the lack of air-to-air refueling aircraft (AAR). This is also one of the topics within the EDA. The current aircraft in use are the A310MRTT (Germany), KDC-10 (Netherlands) and tactically also some French Transalls. (note: the individual countries can of course request support from other nations operating air refueling aircraft like USAFE’s 351st ARS based at RAF Mildenhall which was done by France support their military operations in Mali. However with the US focusing on other world area’s (Asia) it remains to be seen how long these also for the US high value assets will be operated from Europe). Within the EDA a program headed by the Netherlands is conducted to write down the specifications for a potential new air refueling aircraft. Ten member states ( Belgium, France, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg, Spain , The Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Portugal) signed a letter of intent to consider acquiring a new tanker together on November 19th, 2012 Of these country only France (KC-135R, C-160NG), The Netherlands (KDC-10) and Spain (B-707, KC-130H) operate air refuelers which are in need of replacement by 2020. The airframe selected would have to met the MRTT criteria.

New members can join EATC but there are a number of things to take care off before a new member can join. First would of course be the willingness of a new partner to hand-over its transport and/or air refueling units to EATC. On the other hand EATC demands procedures to be met. When all procedures are completed the parliament of the joining nations have to ratify the treaty.

After lasts MATRaC  (November 28th, 2013) the go was announced for Spain to join as sixth nation. Spain operates the C-295 and C-130H in the transport role and utilizes two refueling aircraft the venerable B-707 and KC-130H. The Boeing is to be replaced by the Airbus Military A330MRTT and the same company will also deliver the A-400M to replace the aging Hercules transport and tanker fleet. Spain also has a wing operating VIP aircraft, but control of this fleet (Airbus A.310 and Dassault Falcon 900) will not be transferred. Currently negotiations are underway with Italy (operates the C-27J Spartan, C-130J/C-130J.30 and theKC-767) to join EATC.

EATC assigned squadrons

Country Squadron Aircraft Air Base
Belgium 20 smaldeel C-130H Hercules Melsbroek (Brussels Int.)
  21 smaldeel A330, Da-20E, Falcon 900, ERJ-135LR, ERJ-145LR Melsbroek (Brussels Int.)
France ET 03.060 A310, A340 Creil
  ET 01.061 A-400M Orleans (see notes)  ET 02.061 C-130H, C-130H30 Orleans
  ET 01.062 CN235 Creil
  ET 02.062 CN235 Creil
  ET 01.064 C-160NG Evreux
  ET 02.064 C-160NG Evreux
Germany BMVg A310MRTT Cologne
  LTG 61 C-160D Transall Landsberg
  LTG 62 C-160D and ESS Transall Wunstorf
  LTG 63 C-160D and ESS Transall Hohn
Netherlands 334 Squadron G-IV, DC-10, KDC-10 Eindhoven
  336 Squadron C-130H, C-130H.30 Eindhoven


Belgium: From January 1st, 2014 the VIP aircraft of 21 smaldeel are part of EATC fleet of aircraft. The first A-400M (seven purchased) delivery is foreseen in 2018.

France:  The French Air Force received the first two of its 50 ordered A-400Ms. ET 01.061 has withdrawn her Transall and is currently engaged in crew training on the A-400M. Once the unit is declared operational it will again join the ranks of EATC.

Germany: Purchased 53 A-400Ms with the first delivery expected in November 2014. The German Air Force will disband two of its Lufttransportgeschwader (LTG 61 and 63) with one remaining to operate all new cargo aircraft (LTG 62).

Luxembourg: Will receive it sole A-400M in 2018 which is a joined purchase with Belgium.

The author would like to thank the EATC Captain Thomas and Master Sergeant Gesenhoff for assistance, KLu Commodore Luyt and KLu staff Eindhoven air base for their support.
Air Force representatives (left to right) from:
Belgium, France, Netherlands, Germany,
Air Force representatives (left to right) from:
Luxembourg, Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, France, Belgium