Maiden Flight for A400M; Tough Negotiations Continue

 - December 17, 2009, 5:37 AM

As partner governments head for another showdown with EADS over the climbing costs and lengthy delays associated with the Airbus Military A400M, there was good news for the program on December 11 when the first aircraft took to the air.

MSN001 lifted off from Seville, Spain, at 10:15 a.m. local time, returning 3 hours 47 minutes later after an exemplary maiden voyage. By happy coincidence, defense procurement ministers from the partner nations witnessed the maiden flight as they met in Seville to agree on a common negotiating position.

Airbus Military chief test pilot Ed Strongman was accompanied on the flight by Ignacio “Nacho” Lombo in the right seat, and by four flight-test engineers who monitored aircraft systems, performance and handling. MSN001 was flown in both direct and normal flight control laws, and was taken up to its maximum operating speed of Mach 0.72. Handling qualities were assessed at various speeds, and Strongman described the aircraft as “remarkably responsive.” The takeoff run was commendably short.

MSN001 is expected to fly again at Seville later this month, before moving to Toulouse for detailed handling, envelope, flutter and load trials. Airbus Military is building five aircraft for the test campaign.

The ministers informed EADS of their latest position a few days after the first flight. They sought an interim response from the company by the end of this month and want to conclude a revised contract by March. UK Defence Procurement Minister Quentin Davies told British legislators that he is satisfied that technical issues with the A400M could be resolved. “But I don’t know whether we can resolve the financial and commercial issues,” he added. In Germany, there has been a war of words between government ministers who made plain their desire to pay nothing extra for their A400Ms, and Airbus CEO Tom Enders, who, in response, threatened to scrap the program.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is now forecasting an in-service date of December 2015 for the A400M, after receiving seven aircraft over the preceding 18 to 24 months. Airbus Military still says that a first delivery (probably to France) can be made three years after the first flight, meaning in December 2012. The UK MoD has made an accounting provision of £541 million to cover increased costs, but about half of this is caused by the recent drop in Sterling against the euro, in which currency the A400M is priced.