France’s Le Figaro daily says the Airbus A400M is no longer likely to make its maiden flight this year.
Instead, it is expected to take to the air early next year, according to a “confidential document” reportedly sent to OCCAR (the European organisation for joint armament cooperation) by Airbus parent EADS.
The Senate report, the only extensive public audit of the program to date, spreads blame for the four year delay in the fielding of the transport widely, blaming Airbus, OCCAR as well as European governments.
The report also confirms media reports that the aircraft is 12 metric tons overweight. EADS told the Senate the payload will remain 37mt, which will necessarily result in a heavier aircraft with a lower top speed, shorter unrefueled range and a maximum landing weight of 134mt rather than the previously projected 122mt.
Senators from the foreign and finance committee also found that the A400M`s unit price has increased from €110 million in 1998 to €145 million today.
The report says problems with the platform can be blamed on inexperience with military contracts at Airbus, excessive optimism by subcontractors, ineffective programme management and the different and conflicting agenda pursued by partner governments.
adds the report also identifies the combined development and production contract, first signed in 2001 and then amended in 2003, as “a recipe for failure” because it called for concurrent development of a new airframe, a new engine and new avionics. It also underestimated price and timescale and further lacked a risk reduction study.
Together, these factors introduced unsustainable levels of risk, while contractual milestones were too tight and made no allowance for development delays.
EADS and Airbus also seriously underestimated the mass, the airframe stress factors and the complexity of mission systems for a tactical transport aircraft. Also, at the time Airbus was mainly focused on the A380 and on management in-fighting, while the program management structure was compromised by crossed lines of command and of responsibility, the Senators added.
Litany of woe
The Senators further found that problems with the aircraft are more extensive than the oft-reported crisis surrounding the Hispano-Suiza-developed Full Authority Digital Engine Controls (FADEC) software.
Delays in the navigation architecture are a worry equal to concerns about powerplant.
The Flight Management System (FMS), the GPS Air Data Inertial Reference System (GADIRS), the Terrain-Reference Navigation System (TRN) and the Terrain Masking Low Level Flight system (TM-LLF) have all experienced major development delay.
The report adds delivery of the FADEC software is now tentatively scheduled for October, assuming it obtains its civil certification in July. This is two years later than the contractual date of 30 October 2007, and pushes delivery of the first A400M back to late 2012.
Other concerns raised in the report are:
· Only two aircraft are likely to have been delivered by 2013. Delivery rates will only ramp up in 2014 and the backlog will not be fully worked away until 2020.
· Airbus has offered to deliver an interim airplane, but this will not be capable of the more sophisticated tactical flight modes until navigation systems issues have been resolved. Delivered aircraft will then have to be retrofitted to the full contractual standard.
The report notes partner governments have to date paid €5 billion into the program. They declined, however, to pay an extra €500 million for risk the reduction studies requested by industry. Airbus avers this led to development problems regarding the horizontal tail surface, the definition of the wing design and weight estimates.
The Senators say European countries, at least, will be able to cancel its orders from April, should they chose to do so as the delay in achieving first flight will then exceed a contractual 14 month cap.
“The contract foresees that if first flight is delayed by more than 14 months, governments can abandon the program and recover funds they have paid,” the report says. “As first flight was initially scheduled for January 2008, this means that [cancellation] will become legally feasible by the early Spring 2009….in these conditions, the program`s future will be settled by April”, defence-aerospace translates the document as saying.
“The fact that cancellation is a real option, even if an unlikely one, is significant because it provides governments with a powerful bargaining weapon as EADS and Airbus press for renegotiation to escape heavy financial penalties,” the online publication adds.
EADS and Airbus are trying to convince governments to amend technical specifications they now see as unrealistic, to reduce especially harsh penalty clauses, and to amend unfavourable price escalation clauses. “It is probable that, in the short and medium terms, the [current contract] will produce large losses” for industry, the report states.
France is reportedly not opposed to renegotiation, but Germany wants the contract to be completed as signed, while British Defense Secretary John Hutton has explicitly threatened to pull out as a delay of three to four years for initial deliveries is “unacceptable.”
Other partner governments have not publicly stated their position. The Senate report cautions that “the rigid enforcement of the contract would ‘fragilise` EADS,” the corporate parent of Airbus.
Airbus has said it is not seeking extra cash and that the contract changes it seeks would not cost European taxpayers extra money. Chief Operating Officer Fabrice Brégier earlier this month told the French daily Les Echos that Airbus is “not asking for penalties to be lifted, but to be spread out over a new timetable that is both credible and binding.”
The manufacturer`s position is that, since the responsibility for the delays is shared by governments and by subcontractors, it should not be alone in suffering the financial consequences.
The Senatorial report recommends that the €20 billion contract should be renegotiated to avoid “even more negative operational and industrial consequences” including US domination of the airlifter market.
South African companies involved in the A400M project are risk-sharing partners Denel Saab Aerostructures and Aerosud as well as Saab South Africa and Omnipless.