Airbus hoping for additional A400M customers within 24 months


Egypt could be one of the new customers Airbus Defence and Space is hoping it will sign up in the next 24 months for its A400M Atlas airlifter. The company has also demonstrated the aircraft in Algeria and Saudi Arabia.

Airbus officials told journalists in Seville, Spain, that they had originally anticipated obtaining an export order by year-end but after the fatal crash of an A400M in May they are now hoping for a contract within the next 24 months. Antonio Rodriguez Barberan, Head Of Sales, Military Aircraft at Airbus Defence and Space, said the A400M has now proven itself in real operations with France and Turkey, which has flown the airlifter into Africa and Afghanistan. Consequently Airbus has seen increased demand worldwide and is concentrating on the North Africa, Middle East, Latin America and Asia-Pacific market regions.

Barberan confirmed that South Africa is one country he is hopeful will buy the A400M in spite of its earlier cancellation of an order for eight of the type in 2009. Nevertheless, 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.

Earlier this year it was reported that Egypt had requested A400Ms as soon as possible, however, Airbus officials would not confirm or deny Egypt’s interest.

Barberan told journalists 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.

Barberan said that Airbus keeps offering the A330 MRTT, A400M, C295 and ISR solutions to Algeria, which has also evaluated the C295 maritime patrol aircraft but did not sign a contract. “We believe Algeria has a need for all those products,” Barberan said. Now “they have to decide where they spend the money.”

To date Airbus has delivered 16 aircraft and hopes to deliver a larger number next year. The A400M fleet has accumulated 4 550 flight hours as of the end of September with most flying accumulated by the French Air Force. These flight hours were reached in more than 1 100 missions.

The German Air Force has received one aircraft which entered service in December 2014. Two more are scheduled for delivery in November this year. Shortly after entering service, in March/April this year the aircraft flew to Africa on its first real logistic operation with the German Air Force. With a takeoff weight of 141 tons, it flew from Wunstorf to Dakarm, Senegal, in one day where it transported a water treatment facility for the German Armed Forces Technical Advisory Group (GAFTAG). On the return flight, nine tons of material from the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response was brought back to Europe. The aircraft flew some 23 000 kilometres and stopped in five countries on the way, including a stop in Abu Dhabi which saw a temperature of 52 degrees Celsius being recorded inside the aircraft.

Airbus said that for the same mission, the German Air Force would have needed two to three C160 Transall aircraft, which would have taken two to three days to complete the mission.

The Turkish Air Force has also used its A400Ms operationally, having received two aircraft in 2014 out of an order for ten. Its aircraft flew a direct non-stop flight to the United States and accompanied the Turkish President’s visit to Somalia for three days in January this year. During this mission, almost 17 tonnes of presidential cargo was carried, including two armoured cars and one IED jamming vehicle.

The Royal Air Force has five aircraft in service and three undergoing a retrofit of their defensive aids subsystems. Delivery of the sixth aircraft is planned for the end of this year. The Royal Malaysian Air Force has received one of four on order and is scheduled to receive another in December this year.

France’s Air Force has seven aircraft in service out of a total of 50 ordered. The next delivery is scheduled for November. These aircraft have been heavily used, accumulating 2 700 flight hours since entry into service. The type’s first operational mission was flown to Mali as part of Operation Serval in December 2013/January 2014. Further flights followed to Djibouti (February 2014), the UAE (September 2014) and Sahel as part of Operation Barkhane (October 2014). The French Air Force has also flown their A400Ms to the Central African Republic and Middle East.

Airbus officials gave some detail on A400M operations to Mali. For instance a flight on 28 December 2013 from Orleans to Bamako (a distance of 2 200 nautical mils) carried 22 tonnes of equipment and 22 people while a 31 December mission from Bamako to Gao carried 16 tonnes and 89 people.
“I don’t think we’ll sign new A400M customer this year,” Barberan said. However, he added that the conditions that made him make that statement that a new A400M customer will be signed by yearend are still there. “We knew we wouldn’t sell planes until they were operational.”

Guy Martin took part in a media briefing in Spain as a guest of Airbus Defence and Space.