Despite a small schedule change in initial delivery plans, Airbus Military has reconfirmed that it will deliver the first four A400M airlifters to customers in 2013 as planned, following the development of solutions to the recent engine issue, which prevented the A400M from participating in the Farnborough Air Show flying display.
Airbus Military recently experienced an engine issue on aircraft MSN6, the first production representative development aircraft. After receiving the Restricted Type Certificate (RTC) from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) last April, MSN6 started performing the 300 hour Function and Reliability (F&R) testing required for the award of the full Type Certificate (TC). Tests had to be suspended after 160 hours of F&R flying because of the repeated detection of metallic chips in the oil system of one of the engines.
Airbus Military has supported the engine manufacturer Europrop International (EPI) in its investigations of the root cause and fixes, the company said on Friday. EPI’s investigations have demonstrated that the failure does not impact the engines’ full capabilities and that the chip detection was provoked by a crack of a cover plate, a mechanical piece isolating elements within the Propeller Gear Box (PGB). As a responsibility of EPI, they have already made a new design available, which is currently in the validation process. Consequently, the MSN6 engines as well as all series production engines have been sent back to EPI for replacement of this cover plate.
Airbus Military said it is working with EPI on a plan to minimize the lead-time of the cover plate replacement in order to resume the F&R flying as soon as possible. F&R activity will be able to restart when MSN6 is fitted with the modified engines and upon agreement with EASA of a new F&R plan.
As a consequence, the civil Type Certification and military Initial Operating Capability (IOC) will now move into the first quarter of next year, followed by first delivery to the French Air Force (MSN7) in the second quarter of 2013.
“Despite this we maintain the overall delivery plan of four aircraft in 2013. There is a slight impact on the delivery of the second French aircraft (MSN8) while MSN9 (the first Turkish aircraft) and MSN10 (the third for France) will remain on schedule with delivery before the end of 2013. Other deliveries in 2014 and beyond continue as planned,” Airbus Military said.
EPI President Simon Henley said: “We are working very hard to reduce the lead-time on these replacements to allow Airbus Military to resume the flight test as soon as possible and continue the series production as planned”.
Flight testing outside the F&R programme is continuing, focusing primarily on military capabilities and systems, and the Grizzly development aircraft fleet has now completed more than 3 700 flight hours in nearly 1 250 flights.
Industrially, the first three customer aircraft are now in the final assembly process in Seville, Spain, and a further ten aircraft are in various stages of production with long-lead items launched up to MSN23 and advancing according to plan.
The A400M has been developed at a cost of more than 20 billion euros for Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey. The aircraft has been flying since December 2009.
Despite the aircraft’s complexity and development problems, Airbus parent EADS says the A400M will be a reliable and effective aircraft once it enters service. Airbus hopes to sell around 500 more of the aircraft, from which it will pay back part of the extra money pumped in by purchasing nations.
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.
Due to delays and cost increases, some nations have cut back their A400M orders or cancelled them outright, as South Africa did in November 2009 after citing massive cost inflation. At the end of November last year Airbus signed an agreement with Armscor that confirmed the cancellation of the eight aircraft ordered in 2005. As a result, Airbus Military refunded South Africa €321 million (R3.48 billion) in pre-payments and other related costs.
South African companies Denel Aerostructures (DAe) and Aerosud remain full industrial partners in the A400M programme, providing design, engineering and manufacturing of major components for the aircraft. In addition, Cobham South Africa in Cape Town supplies satellite communications antennae for Airbus Military and Airbus commercial aircraft.
DAe is responsible for one of the largest composite-metallic hybrid structures on the A400M, namely the Wing-to-Fuselage Fairing (WFF). The WFF protects the equipment under the centre wing portion against lightning strikes, hail damage and bird strikes. Each fairing is 15 m long, 7 m wide, and nearly 3 m high.
DAe also manufactures the aircraft’s Top Shells – positioned in front of and behind the wings where it is joined to the fuselage. They are made up of more than 1 100 parts, consisting of a large machined skin, engineered out of an aluminium alloy. Its brackets support the electric and electronic wiring, hot air and heat exchange piping as well as the aircraft’s life-rafts.
Both parts were designed from scratch by DAe and are manufactured at the company’s production facilities located next to O R Tambo International Airport.
Denel Aerostructures is currently ramping up its production to meet Airbus Military’s delivery schedules. Within the next four years DAe will manufacture 24 ship sets per year, moving off the production lines for final assembly in Seville, Spain.
For its part, Aerosud is responsible for a number of secondary structures on the A400M, including the nose fuselage linings, cargo hold linings, and cockpit linings, the cockpit rigid bulkhead and the nose fuselage galleys as well as the wingtips.
Denel Aerostructures is in the process of receiving a third work package from Airbus Military to build tail plane ribs and spars for the A400M.
The A400M was designed to give Europe autonomy in military transport, which is dominated by the Lockheed Martin C130 Hercules turboprop and the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III jet transport. But technical problems and mismanagement kicked the project four years behind schedule and €7.6 billion over budget. For a while, the A400M crisis cast a shadow over the future of EADS as the cost of abandoning the project would have been staggering in penalties alone.