European aerospace group EADS is again saying it stands by its Airbus subsidiary’s troubled A400M Loadmaster military transport aircraft program.
In a statement issued this morning EADS confirmed that it “remains fully committed to the construction of the A400M that will be the most complete high performance military plane for the coming decades.”
EADS has made several similar statements this year as skepticism around the programme mounts. The first of 192 aircraft ordered for nine air forces in 2003 should have been delivered this year, but instead the prototype has yet to lift off the runway.
The EADS statement seems to relate to an interview published by German web site Spiegel Online this weekend with Airbus CE Tom Enders, who Reuters says told the publication that “under the current conditions we cannot build the plane.” He added it would be better to make a painful break than draw out the agony.
Nine countries countries – Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Turkey as well as South Africa and Malaysia – have ordered a total of 192 of the aircraft and many have expressed anger over an at least four-year delay in the delivery of the much anticipated Lockheed Martin C130 and Transall C160 replacement.
Enders said he would not make a “pilgrimage to Berlin or Paris to plead for a continuation of the programme under conditions that are not acceptable to us.”
Airbus has blamed the delays on the companies supplying the A400M’s massive turbo-prop engines. The planemaker faces a risk of billions of euro in penalties for the delays.
Enders told Spiegel Online that the states ordering planes should in the future take on partial responsibility for availability of aircraft engines.
Enders` comments follow similar warnings from EADS itself.
The Financial Times Thursday quoted EADS’ chief executive as warning European politicians that any shortfall in orders will have “an industrial impact”, as well as making each plane more expensive.
The paper says Louis Gallois is trying to dissuade parliamentarians overseeing western Europe’s largest procurement budgets to cancel aircraft orders in spite of ever lengthening delays in the project.
Gallois termed the commercial terms around the A400M “a huge mistake for the company”.
Today`s EADS statement adds that the “group reaffirms that the contract signed in 2003 does not provide the necessary conditions for the successful development of the programme, firstly because of an unrealistic timetable, and secondly because the commercial nature of the contract does not fit to the reality of a military programme containing high technological risks.”
German concerns, British contingency plans
Germany, France and Britain have all this year publicly slammed the delays and mooted cutting orders.
Rüdiger Wolf, a state secretary in the German defence ministry, had told Die Welt newspaper’s Saturday edition he expected to receive clarification on the problems delaying the A400M in April.
Reuters adds German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung today said he is hopeful that the European buyers will next month agree on what to do about the programme.
“My hopes are that we can have clarity in April, but we have agreed on the three month period,” Jung told reporters, referring to a three-month moratorium which aims to prevent individual nations walking away from the project.
Reuters separately reports from London today that Britain is considering a new order for Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft due to the delays.
“We are naturally concerned by delays to the A400M programme and … the MoD is considering various contingency plans including procuring additional assets for example C-17,” the spokesman told Reuters earlier today.
The spokesman said a final decision on whether to go ahead with the project at all would be made in June.
MTU damage control
Meanwhile, MTU, the German engine maker at the centre of a row over delays to what is described as Europe’s biggest current defence project has also affirmed it is confident problems with the transport will be resolved.
But it declines to say when the plane will fly, Reuters says.
MTU Aero Engines is responsible for software needed to power the military transporter’s engines and manufacturer Airbus says hitches in its development are largely to blame for the massive delay in the €20 billion project. The company and its consortium partners, including Britain`s Rolls-Royce and France’s Safran have denied this.
“Airbus has asked everyone involved to stick with the timetable, and they are all working hard on their respective parts of the project,” MTU Chief Executive Egon Behle told the company’s annual news conference last week.
Behle said he did not expect more provisions beyond the €44 million already set aside to cover risks from the A400M programme.