Airbus Military is offering to supply some A400M tactical airlifters to NATO on a “fractional ownership” basis. The proposal is designed to help smaller European countries that cannot afford to own such aircraft but that have been negotiating a similar pooling scheme (through NATO) with Boeing for the C-17.
“We are offering a much lower cost per flying hour than Boeing,” a source at Airbus Military told Aviation International News. Thirteen NATO nations signed a memorandum of understanding with Boeing last fall to procure three or four C-17s for the pool. But according to the source, negotiations have bogged down as the nations “realized how expensive the scheme would be in practice.”
Most of the same nations currently subscribe to NATO’s Strategic Air Lift Interim Solution (SALIS), which employs Antonov An-124 Ruslan heavy airlifters supplied under contract (see page 38). The SALIS contract would have to be extended if the nations took up the Airbus offer, since the A400M production line is fully committed until 2012. Despite development delays with the aircraft’s very powerful turboprop engines, Airbus Military said that the promised first delivery can still be made in October 2009. This aircraft is for France, one of seven launch nations that ordered 180 A400Ms. South Africa (eight on order) and Malaysia (four) subsequently joined the program as industrial partners.
Airbus Military hopes to sell as many as 200 A400Ms to other countries. It has recently briefed three U.S. Air Force commands on the aircraft’s suitability to replace the C-130s used for Special Forces missions. However, the USAF requires earlier deliveries than Airbus Military can provide, quite apart from political considerations that would make such a sale problematic, the European manufacturer admits. For a full description of the A400M, see tomorrow’s edition.