Airbus has suggested civilian operation of the A400M airlifter for disaster relief flights. At a media briefing during the ILA Berlin airshow last week, Norbert Kolvenbach, vice president for public affairs Germany, noted that the aircraft is already certified by the EASA. He floated the idea of a “supranational” operator, such as the United Nations. “The A400M could be interesting,” said Birgitte Stalder-Olsen, head of logistics for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), at the same briefing.
Airbus noted that only helicopters and versatile aircraft such as the A400M can transport mobile hospitals, food supplies and other relief materials quickly to a crisis zone. Kolvenbach said that after the disastrous typhoon in the Philippines last year, the A400M could have shuttled supplies from Cebu to the small airstrips closer to the affected area than the boats could get them. In another example, aid could have been delivered direct to Dolo Ado airfield in Ethiopia, rather than risk a 10-day road journey from Addis Ababa through terrorist-threatened areas.
Stalder-Olsen said that the IFRC and other relief organizations currently rely largely on old, environmentally unfriendly Russian airlifters. The number of full-airplane charters varies from year to year, she added. The IFRC official told AIN that the cost of chartering Russian aircraft is high and cannot be negotiated in advance.
Andrea Debbane, executive director of the Airbus Corporate Foundation, said that Airbus provided 36 relief flights using its airliner test fleet and delivery flights in the six years since the foundation was created. These have carried 450 tonnes to five regions. Airbus Defence & Space owns a portable hospital that could be airlifted by the A400M, she said. The separate Airbus Helicopter Foundation, created one year ago, provided 50 hours on Ecureuil and Dauphin helicopters during the Philippines emergency. A version of the Super Puma was specifically designed for humanitarian aid missions, she added. Stalder-Olsen noted that Airbus employees have donated €97,000 for relief flights.
Previous attempts to create a civilian market for new-build military airlifters have mostly failed becuase of high acquisition and operating costs. As an alternative, it might be possible “to generate the political will to create a pool of military aircraft that would be available for relief operations,” Kolvenbach suggested.