DALLAS – It’s a third Jumbo jet for Challenge Airlines BE (X7), and it’s all geared up in the “Challenge accepted” livery, all set to take to the skies later this month. In the future, X7 plans to be a pure 747 freighter airline. In case you missed our previous interview with the airline’s COO, here you go.
On the contrary, the recent news of the last iconic Boeing 747 being built in Everette and going to Atlas has left many in despair as it brings an end to the golden era of the Boeing 747 program. Besides, many of the already flying ones are slowly heading to their graves, especially the passenger variant.
But hold it right there, some cargo carriers aren’t ready to bid adieu to the queen just yet. Challenge Airlines BE flies two jumbo jets at the moment and wants to scale up to four at the earliest, the third merely days away from flight.
The latest addition is a Boeing 747-400F and is 28 years old. A rather rich past, the Jumbo started off with Singapore Airlines Cargo in 1994 and thereafter flew briefly for Evergreen, Saudia cargo, and Challenge Airlines IL (formerly CAL Cargo).
Unlike the current pair of OO-ACE and OO-ACF, the newbie will be registered under the Austrian AOC and wears OE-LRG. Well, I was lucky enough to catch OE-LRG during my visit and take a good look at it inside out.
The Queen never fails to impress, from a walk around and admiring its sheer size, to witnessing cargo being loaded and pushed to its location through a series of power-driven units. The 747-400F’s cargo deck holds up to 30 pallets and has a massive revenue payload of nearly 113 tons.
The nose door is surely a crucial feature of the freighter versions allowing it to swallow cargo measuring 185 ft in length and 12.5 ft in width, as well as faster loading and unloading.
Since we’re talking about loading, perhaps there’s one thing Challenge Airlines BE has in its infantry that is as highly valued as the 747 – their special high lift loader. Largest in Europe, just three of such were built.
The Loader can uplift up to 52 tons in one go! So, to say for comparison, it could jack up an Empty weight Boeing 737-800 if it were wide enough.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the carrier two years ago launched flights to the then epicenter, Wuhan. Almaty and Nur Sultan are used as technical stops for China-bound lights where crew change and fuel is loaded, allowing more freight payload.
Nearly all of Challenge’s freight only spends a few hours at Liege before heading to its destination, and hence a quick efficient turnaround is needed and that’s where sister group Challenge Handling does the job.
They were the first cargo handling group to set up in Liege Airport and boast a 40000 sq m warehouse that can offer and handle all kinds of cargo: perishables, oversized, Pharma, dangerous goods, high-valued automobiles, and of course live animals – Horses in particular.
From cool chains to high-roofed storage facilities, they’ve got it all covered to store the freight in the warehouse. Massive hanging placards with the destination and flight number allow for a uniform consolidation of the cargo and proper zoning for its next journey be it to the US, MEA or the Far East.
There on, the cargo is loaded onto the pallet and taken to the Jumbo.
While loading starts a couple of hours prior to departure the pilots come in a mere forty-five mins and prep the aircraft for flight. A highly motivated team is one of Challenge’s best assets, the upcoming expansion by fleet and network will surely make the carrier one of the most competitive out there, niche is their game.
As a door-to-door provider, Challenge can indeed accept any challenge, be it ACMI, scheduled services, or charter.
Featured image/All photos: Author