European planemaker Airbus reaffirmed plans to get the delayed A400M military transport plane flying by the end of the year as it announced a raft of management changes at its military division.
The changes include the appointment of a new engineering chief described as “Mr Tanker” by one industry source after a storm over A400M costs and delays, which contrasts with relatively smoother developments of Airbus refuelling tankers.
It is the widest shake-up of the team running efforts by Airbus to diversify away from civil plane production since parent EADS brought in Airbus’s restructuring chief Domingo Urena to run the troubled military division in February.
Miguel Angel Morell, Urena’s new head of engineering and technology, previously led efforts by Airbus to develop in-flight refuelling planes converted from A330 passenger jets.
The move comes as EADS, in partnership with Northrop Grumman, faces a new competition against rival Boeing to sell tankers to the US Air Force.
EADS and Northrop last year won an order for tankers worth $35 billion (R253 billion) from the US but Boeing successfully appealed the decision and the contest is set to be run again.
“Morell is a very capable guy. He is ‘Mr Tanker’ and helped to ensure they performed well in the United States so he is a key player,” an industry source said, asking not to be named.
Airbus declined a request to interview Morell.
Australia was the first customer for the Multi-Role Tanker Transport plane, or MRTT, which will carry troops and perform mid-air refuelling. The A330s are converted at Getafe in Spain.
Deliveries to Australia, originally tabled for 2007, have been delayed but the project has been broadly spared the turmoil that threatened the A400M, Europe’s largest defence project.
“Airbus Military is getting ready for some important milestones such as the A400M first flight to take place by the end of the year, the first A330 MRTT deliveries to operators in Australia and the UK and the US tanker competition,” the company said in a statement.
The maiden flight of the A400M has been delayed by almost two years due to engine and software development problems, forcing EADS to renegotiate the 20 billion euro contract with the seven European NATO countries that first ordered the plane.
Ministers are expected to meet in coming days to discuss whether to reschedule deliveries and waive penalties for delays.
In other changes, Airbus Military’s previous engineering chief, Rafael Acedo, has been appointed head of strategy and Jaime Perez-Guerra, a former spokesperson for Spanish airline Iberia, has been appointed head of communications.
Spain clashed earlier this year with EADS over previous management changes and a reorganisation that saw the Spanish-led military transport business folded into Airbus instead of remaining as a standalone EADS unit, industry sources say.
Sources familiar with the matter blamed that rift for Spain’s decision to boycott a meeting of ministers from Airbus producing countries at the Paris Air Show in June.
Often seen as a junior partner to France and Germany in EADS, Spain has pushed for some time for a greater profile in Europe’s largest aerospace group, which was created in 2000.
Spain has doubled its share of Airbus’s next civil project, the A350, following investments in new materials.