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Airbus A400M back on track: Mark Mansfield reports

DESPITE THE recent crash of one of Airbus Defence and Space’s A400M turboprop heavy military airlifters, the company says that the aircraft’s programme is back on track, this having been confirmed by Fernando Alonso, Head of Military Aircraft at the recent Airbus Defence and Space Trade media briefing in Seville.

It has also not been fazed by the recent announcement that Lockheed Martin has received an order from the French Air Force for two C-130J aircraft and two KC-130Js worth a total of $650-million.

airbus a400m

Alonso, who took over the division in March 2015, said that he and his team had stabilised the industrial layout of the A400M, paving the way for increased rates of production and focusing on bringing tactical capabilities on the aircraft on stream.

“We had to clean-up on the development of capabilities”, said Alonso, who added: “ When I arrived it was ambiguous, it looked like there were a lot of missing capabilities, but in fact there are not that many. There are some discrete areas where we have problems; we have identified them and we are tackling them one after the other.”

The crash and subsequent grounding of production aircraft from undertaking test flights affected the delivery process. At the time of writing, Airbus D&S was hopeful of delivering 17 aircraft by the end of 2015, although this number could fall depending on how long the acceptance process takes on some of the aircraft. In 2016, 23 aircraft are due for delivery as production speeds up. This compared to seven or eight delivered in 2014. Antonio Rodriguez Barberan, Head of Sales, Military Aircraft at Airbus Defence and Space, said the A400M had now proven itself in real operations with France and Turkey, which had flown the airlifter into Africa and Afghanistan. Consequently Airbus had seen increased demand worldwide and was concentrating on the North Africa, Middle East, Latin America and Asia-Pacific market regions.

Regarding South Africa, Barberan is still hopeful SA will buy the A400M, in spite of its earlier cancellation of an order for eight of the type in 2009.

South Africa remains an important industrial partner on the A400M project, with Denel Aerostructures, Aerosud and Cobham South Africa supplying fuselage, cabin, wing and vertical tail plane components and structures. Denel Aerostructures manufactures large items like the aircraft’s top shells and wing-to-fuselage fairing and was recently awarded additional work packages. Barberan refused to comment if Egypt had signed up to buy the A400M. It is likely that Egypt will want the aircraft to replace its existing fleet of C130H aircraft.

However, Barberan said that Airbus had provided additional information on the A400M to three Latin American countries. In August and September 2014 Airbus flew the A400M to Algeria and Saudi Arabia for demonstrations at the request of those countries. The A400M spent four days in Saudi Arabia and three days in Algeria.

The company took the opportunity to also evaluate the aircraft in hot climates – during a stop in Saudi Arabia, the interior of the aircraft reached 53 degrees Celsius.

Airbus Defence and Space has reported substantial progress in the flight-testing of functions and capabilities for the A400M, of which it listed 14 capabilities that have already been certified, ranging from transport of heavy vehicles and helicopters through free-fall paratrooping to aerial delivery by gravity extraction.

The full flight envelope has been proved, including low-level flight in VMC, as well as operations on to harder types of unpaved runway. Another 18 capabilities or configurations remain to be proven including the first of a two-stage implementation of the Defensive Aids Sub-Systems (DASS), and air-toair refuelling (AAR) from wing pods.................................. For the FULL ARTICLE please subscribe to our digital edition.

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