First production A400M takes flight


Airbus Military’s first production A400M airlifter has made its maiden flight and will be delivered to the French Air Force in the third quarter of this year. The SA Air Force is no doubt enviously watching the A400M’s progress given the cancellation of its order and as yet unmet requirement to eventually replace its ageing C-130s.

The first production A400M (MSN7) took off from Seville in Spain on March 6 and landed back there five hours and 42 minutes later.

Test pilot Hugues van der Stichel, who captained the flight, said after landing: “The aircraft’s performance was as expected and we had a smooth flight confirming its handling capabilities. The result of this first flight gives us full confidence for an on-time delivery to the French Air Force”.

South Africa was originally a risk-taking partner in the A400M project but withdrew because of delays and alleged cost increases, cancelling its order in November 2009 after ordering eight airlifters in 2005. Some in South Africa’s aerospace sector see a chance for the country to get back on board the A400M programme.

The head of Airbus Military, Domingo Urena-Raso, recently said that Airbus Military was gearing up to promote the A400M to foreign countries as the manufacturer puts technical problems and major delays behind it. Exports are important for Europe’s largest defence project as Airbus Military parent company EADS said it would lose money on the A400M without foreign sales, especially as the A400M project is billions of euros over budget and four years behind schedule. Airbus Military will start aggressive marketing in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East once the A400M enters service.

However, it may be many years before an export customer receives the A400M. Just four aircraft are expected to be delivered to France and Turkey this year, with 166 more to go to France, Germany, the UK, Turkey, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Another Airbus Military product that is sure to be followed keenly by the SAAF airlift squadron is the A330 MRTT.

The Royal Saudi Air Force has taken delivery of the first batch of three of the new generation tanker/transport aircraft. Deliveries of a second batch of three will begin at the end of next year.

The A330 MRTT will be used as air to air refuelers for Royal Saudi fighters including the F-15, Typhoon, and Tornado.

Saudi Arabia is joined by the UAE as another MRTT operator in the Middle East. Other MRTT operators are the United Kingdom and Australia.

The SAAF currently has no in-flight refuelling capability following the retirement of its Boeing 707s and its airlift and transport operations centre on ageing C-130BZs, supported by CASA 2012s and C-47TPs. The C-130BZs will keep flying until 2020, but what will replace them has not yet been decided.