Dubai Air Show

A400M closer to first flight, but loses client

 - November 15, 2009, 8:17 AM

There was good news and bad news for Europe’s troubled airlifter last week. Airbus Military said the first A400M is now in the hands of the flight-test team and on course for a first flight by the end of the year. And the program gained a strong endorsement from the UK Royal Air Force commander. But South Africa canceled its order for eight aircraft and claimed a refund of $391 million already handed over.

Static tests and engine runups of the first A400M will now be undertaken at Seville, followed by taxi tests, which will culminate in a rejected takeoff at about 120 knots. The telemetry system to relay flight-test data from the aircraft will also be checked on the ground. Scheduled to be at the controls for the taxi tests and the first flight is Ed Strongman, head of A400M flight test; Ignatio Lombow is to be the copilot.

Much to the surprise of Airbus Military, South Africa pulled out after a cabinet meeting was told that the cost of the A400M had soared. The contract was signed in December 2006 and was worth a reported Rand 17 billion ($2.3 billion at today’s exchange rate). Speaking after the cabinet meeting, a government spokesman told local reporters that the cost now is Rand 40 billion ($5.4 billion). “We don’t recognize these figures,” an Airbus spokesperson told AIN.

The South African deal also involved an industrial partnership, which may now be in doubt. Denel Saab Aerostructures was selected to supply front and rear fuselage top shells; wing-fuselage fairings; ribs and spares for the tail fin; and some of the center-wing box structure. Aerosud was slated to supply the wing tips and some internal structure and linings.

Speaking to the Reuters news agency at the Air Chiefs Conference here Saturday, Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton confirmed that the RAF still wants to take 25 A400Ms. But he warned that difficult negotiations with Airbus Military over cost are still to come. “We have got to stand firm and challenge industry,” he was quoted as saying. Dalton said negotiators for the European launch-partner countries are looking at whether savings can be made by reshuffling upfront costs, and by finding more efficient ways to maintain the aircraft in service.