This morning 2 F-16 fighter jets scrambled from Florennes Air Base after a Hungarian cargo plane (SF34 registered HA-TAB operating Flight FRF101) lost communication with ATC above Belgium/Netherlands, Belga, Sudinfo and Het Laatste Nieuws reported.
This is the first intervention of the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) since the beginning of the agreements between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Since the beginning of the agreements in January 2017, the Belgian and Dutch F-16s have been alternating in the Benelux airspace. Through this collaboration, staff and limited resources are used more efficiently. In this way fighter jets are more often available for international operations. In 2016, the QRA procedure was implemented six times. This year, our F-16s had to take off four times for interventions (scrambles). Three times, it was an open-air interception.
This guard patrol is composed of two Belgian or Dutch F-16s. Its mission is to take off within a quarter of an hour in order to intercept any suspicious or distressed aircraft in the Benelux airspace.
At 6:53 local time, the QRA was ordered to take off. At 07:06, the two F-16s take off from the 2nd Tactical Wing to intercept the aircraft no longer responding to the air traffic controller. At 07:19, the F-16s intercept the aircraft identified as a Hungarian aircraft.
The F-16s try to contact the crew but the crew is still not responding. A visual contact is made between the pilots of the Belgian Air Force and the Hungarian airplane. The situation in the cockpit seems normal. It appears that technical problems prevented communication between the aircraft in difficulty and the controller. After visual inspection, communication between the ground and the Hungarian aircraft is restored by means of an F-16 guard frequency.
The aircraft continues westward and approaches British airspace. The F-16s escort the aircraft while keeping in touch with the air traffic control. The British QRA is also activated and takes off from their base in Coningsby. The Belgian QRA frames the troubled aircraft into British airspace and passes the hand to the British fighter planes. The aircraft will then be taken to a civilian airfield where it will land safely.
This kind of fast take-off called “Quick Reaction Alert” occurs between 5 and 10 times over the year. “Its mission is to take off within a quarter of an hour in order to intercept any suspicious or distressed aircraft in Belgian-Dutch airspace,” it is explained at the Florennes air base.
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Source: Belga, SudInfo