Airbus Military has unveiled the first production model A400M airlifter, MSN7, in the colours of the French Air Force at its final assembly line (FAL) in Seville, Spain.
Delivery of the aircraft is scheduled for the second quarter of this year and is in line with the company’s updated production scheduling.
There are currently 174 of the new generation airlifters on Airbus Military’s production order book but none will have South African Air Force (SAAF) tail numbers.
During Mosiuoa Lekota’s tenure as Defence Minister, South Africa entered the A400M production programme as a risk-sharing partner in 2004. The SAAF would have been the major beneficiary, adding eight of the new generation airlifters to its inventory to replace its ageing Lockheed Martin C-130BZ Hercules aircraft.
Aerosud and Denel Aerostructures are industrial partners and suppliers to the A400M programme and are responsible for the design, engineering and manufacture of wing, fuselage and interior components of the A400M.
This work is still ongoing despite the cancellation of the order for the eight aircraft by immediate past Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. She cited “unacceptable delays” in production as the major contributor to South Africa’s withdrawal from the A400M deal, entered into by Lekota and then Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin.
In its latest annual report the Department of Defence noted a lack of strategic airlift capability “remains a challenge and affects external deployments, exacerbated by cancellation of an order for eight A400M airlifters in November 2009”.
With its capacity to support SA National Defence Force (SANDF) continental peacekeeping deployments already stretched and necessitating the use of charter aircraft, the SAAF’s internal air transport is also being put under more pressure. This as a result of the loss of two 35 Squadron C-4TP aircraft late last year and the forced removal from service of a 44 Squadron CASA 212 after a hard landing at Tempe airfield.