A400M on track for turn of year delivery


Airbus Military will deliver the first A400M to the French Air Force at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, in spite of engine problems, which are delaying type certification to July. France will receive three A400Ms and Turkey one by the end of 2013.

Airbus Military, at its annual Trade Media Briefing in Toulouse, attended by defenceWeb, said that in 2014, seven or eight of the airlifters will be delivered while 2.5 aircraft will be coming off the production line every month by the end of 2015.

Initial type certification was achieved on April 30 this year and full EASA civil certification planned for the middle of this year upon the completion of 300 flight hours of function and reliability tests. Initial military certification (initial operating clearance) is planned for August or September.

Type certification has been impacted by several months due to engine problems, particularly the most recent one concerning aircraft MSN4. On its way back from Malaysia after its tour to Asia last month, one of the engine gearboxes failed, causing the aircraft to be stranded for a while in Oman. The propeller gearbox has been dismantled and is under investigation. Another issue that emerged was a high level of vibration on one of MSN6’s engines, requiring its replacement. Airbus Military believes the problem was caused by the incorrect balancing of the engine on the test bench. So far more than 12 000 engine hours have been accumulated.

The recent problems are unrelated to the hitches experienced last year that affected the high pressure compressor and propeller gearbox, which have since been fixed. Fernando Alonso, Senior Vice President for Airbus Flight and Integration Tests, said that it’s “sometimes frustrating” to find such problems but he was glad that they emerged now rather than later. “The more problems we find now the better it is.” He added that the delays caused by the issues have been absorbed by Airbus Military and that MSN7 (for France) is still forecast to be delivered at the turn of 2012/2013.

The French air force will have two crews (four pilots) trained, with the total growing to 12 by June 2013. Initial training is being done on the A400M, but pilots also train on the A380 simulator as both cockpits are similar. Meanwhile, France is within weeks of signing an in-service support deal to cover its first 18 months of operating the A400M.

Between one and one-and-a-half years after the A400M becomes operational with the French Air Force, Airbus Military hopes to receive an additional orders for the transport. Airbus Military said the A400M is being actively marketed and the company has identified ten potential customers for it, but it is likely that marketing efforts will only be successful in the next three to four years.

In March the A400M visited Bolivia, Peru and Chile and last month toured Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. In the coming months the aircraft is scheduled to tour the Middle East and Turkey. The aircraft will also be present at the RIAT, Farnborough and Berlin air shows, making up for its inability to fly during the Paris Air Show last year due to gearbox problems.
“We’re eager to show the A400M to different air forces and countries,” Alonso said. “We have a great product and would like to show it off.” He added that although “this plane has tremendous potential,” everything was not perfect and there is still a lot to be done.

The five aircraft in the flight test campaign have accumulated more than 3 100 hours in nearly 1100 flights. As of May 16, (MSN1, 2, 3, 4, 6) had accumulated 3 212 flight hours during 1 094 flights. MSN1, the first flight aircraft, leads the fleet with about 1 000 hours and more than 300 flights.

Airbus Military has 174 A400M aircraft on order, including seven for Belgium, 50 for France, 53 for Germany, one for Luxembourg, 27 for Spain, ten for Turkey, 22 for the UK and four for Malaysia. The UK has options for three and Germany has options for seven. After France and Turkey, the UK, Germany and Malaysia will receive their first aircraft in 2014. In 2015 Spain will get its first A400M, followed by Luxembourg and Belgium in 2018.

The first three aircraft will be delivered in initial operating capability configuration, to be followed by SOC 1 (initial aerial delivery) standard next year; SOC 1.5 (full aerial delivery and initial tanker capacity) in 2014; SOC 2 (enhanced tactical mission and additional performances) in 2015; SOC 2.5 (enhanced tanker capabilities and search and rescue) in 2017 and SOC 3 (low level flight) in 2018.

Cedric Gautier, head of the A400M Programme, said that the ramping up of production “is a challenge for the supply chain” since it is the same for Airbus’s commercial aircraft, production of which is also increasing. “So we are monitoring the supply chain closely,” he said.

South African company Denel Aerostructures is assured of work in the A400M programme as production increases, even though South Africa cancelled its A400M order. After South Africa ordered the A400M, Denel Saab Aerostructures (Denel Aerostructures today) and other local companies began manufacturing components for the aircraft.

Head of Airbus Military Domingo Urena-Raso said that his company was satisfied with Denel’s performance and would continue to work with the company as far as they keep performing.

Gautier confirmed that Airbus Military wanted Denel Aerostructures as an A400M supplier for at least another three years and would soon sign a new contract. “Denel is delivering on time and on quality,” Gautier said, adding that he was “very satisfied” with the state-owned enterprise.