Europe’s New Airlifter Ceremonially Welcomed

 - October 1, 2013, 10:09 AM
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian formally welcomes the first French Air Force A400M at Orleans airbase. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

In ceremonies at the Seville factory and at Orleans in France airbase on September 30, Airbus Military and the French air force celebrated the entry into service of the A400M airlifter. No new aircraft were handed over, but delivery of the second aircraft for France and the first for Turkey will occur by the end of October. The production rate is building toward two per month, so that firm orders for 174 aircraft can be fulfilled. Airbus Military officials again told AIN that no discussions had yet taken place with the pan-European agency OCCAR, on possible reductions to the numbers required by France, Germany and Spain.

In Seville, EADS CEO Tom Enders described the A400M as “the most versatile airlifter ever conceived.” Inevitably, though, he made reference to “the dark days of 2009-10” when the program was nearly canceled after the development encountered technical difficulties, running behind schedule and over budget. “The saga is rich in lessons for future multinational defense procurement in Europe. We must avoid unrealistic schedules and insufficient funding,” he added.

Enders also called for a pan-European military certification authority. Unusually for a military transport, the A400M has been certified by EASA, but its military certification remains in the hands of each national customer.

Domingo Urena-Raso, CEO of Airbus Military, expressed a heartfelt thanks to OCCAR for agreeing to revise the A400M contract in 2010. In return, OCCAR deputy general director Eric Huybrechts said that “the outstanding results today outweigh any concessions that were made.” In the revised agreement, the seven partner nations agreed to pay €2 billion more for their aircraft (the UK opting instead to reduce its offtake from 25 to 22).

The nations also agreed to loan EADS another €1.5 billion, to be repaid as a levy on future export sales. Malaysia (four) is the only such customer at the moment, but Airbus Military A400M v-p marketing Jose-Luis Tejedor told journalists at the ceremony in Seville that “we can sell 300 to 400 over the coming years. That’s 50 percent of the market.” He later told AIN that the first export delivery could be made in 2016.

The French Air Force has built new hangars, ramps and a training center at Orleans to support its first A400M squadron, 1/61 “Touraine.” A Multinational Entry into Service Team (MEST) has been created there, which will include military personnel from the European A400M partner nations, so that “lessons learned” can be circulated. Four UK Royal Air Force personnel are already members.

The training center encompasses four simulators, including a Thales level-C full-flight simulator.

As part of the September 30 ceremonies, the French and German air force commanders signed an agreement to jointly train aircrews at Orleans, with mechanics to be trained at Wunsdorf airbase in Germany. The French military air experimentation center has begun “a lengthy period of in-depth evaluation” of the A400M, according to the French MoD.

Airbus Military is not due to deliver the full operating capability of the A400M until 2018, to include automatic terrain following, in-flight refueling and full defensive aids suite.