Components for 6th Airbus A400 to depart for Spain next month


South African components for the sixth Airbus A400M will be shipped to Seville, Spain for final assembly onto the aircraft next month, Denel Saab Aerostructures (DSA) says. The South African company is contracted to provide wing-to-fuselage fairings (WFF) and so-called top shells to the 174 A400M still on order for delivery to eight countries from December next year at the earliest.

“The redesigned WFF for the MSN-006 aircraft has already commenced delivery of sub-sets to the full ship set, in November 2010 and will be fully delivered by mid April 2011, as scheduled by Airbus. This will enable the fully assembled aircraft to take to the skies in December 2011.”

DSA says full production of the A400M is expected to start no later than 2016. The company anticipates producing up to a maximum of 2.5 WFF units per month from early 2016. The WFF was designed from scratch at DSA and is locally produced using predominantly local technology and labour. DSA, Aerosud and Cobham-Omnipless are the only component manufacturer outside of Europe and Turkey involved in the project and the South African flag is prominently displayed on the cockpit of the massive transporter currently undergoing advanced flight testing in challenging conditions.
“Our participation in the Airbus production process is testimony to the ingenuity of our engineering team and the quality of our workmanship,” says DSA CE Ismail Dockrat. It has brought significant benefits to the local aviation industry and confirmed South Africa’s status as a reliable supplier and innovative design partner, he adds.

DSA A400M Project Manager Roland Diem says the WFF is an essential part of the aircraft that provides protection to the sensitive equipment under the centre wing portion against lightning strikes, hail damage and bird strikes. It is made up of 86 composite panels and doors and some 1100 metallic sub-structural parts and is designed for ease of systems installation and maintenance.

Diem adds that during the evaluation of the first prototype it became apparent that the aircraft was about 12 000kg over its target weight. “All suppliers and component manufacturers were required to reduce the total aircraft weight by some 7000kg. In the end a combined saving of only 700kg was achieved of which DSA was responsible for more than 130kg – without compromising safety or functionality.

Subsequent load loops resulted in significant changes being required to the design and build of the aircraft. DSA was tasked to make the relevant changes to the WFF for MSN-006 baseline to ensure structural integrity and safety was maintained. The initial indications were that the redesign could take up to three years to complete, without any additional resources, resulting in major delays in the final production schedule, Diem says. “Through the technical expertise and ingenuity of the DSA design team together with a massive integrated management team effort, this period was significantly shortened.”

The Airbus A400M was commissioned to meet the need for heavy airlift capacity that can transport modern military equipment and humanitarian relief supplies into inaccessible global hotspots. The aircraft has a payload capability of more than 30 000 kg, a range of 8710km and can land and take off in less than 1000 metres.

Although South Africa cancelled its own order of eight Airbus A400M aircraft the work packages remain with DSA. The company also manufactures the aircraft’s top shells which are positioned in front of, and behind the wings where it is joined to the fuselage. DSA is producing two top shells for each aircraft – one each in front and behind of the wing box, which joins the wing to the fuselage.