The French Air Force accepted its first A400M airlifter on August 2, when an all-military crew flew the first production aircraft–MSN7–from Seville to its operational base at Orleans. The flight followed a July 31 declaration by the pan-European procurement agency OCCAR that Airbus Military had achieved the contracted specifications for the initial operating capability of the new airlifter. The French defense procurement agency DGA described the first delivery as “the culmination of a long, complex and painstaking process.” Airbus Military noted that more than 5,000 flight-test hours had been amassed during a 10-year development process.
This milestone should be the signal for Airbus Military to step up its export marketing efforts for the A400M. It has forecast total sales of 300 aircraft over the next 20 years, and 400 over 30 years. The seven European partner nations in the program have contracted for a collective 170 aircraft. But the export situation has been complicated by the desire of some European nations to reduce their offtake. Germany revealed some time ago that it wants only 40 instead of 53. Last week, a defense official told the Reuters news agency that Spain wants only 14, instead of 27. When France published its new six-year defense procurement plan last week (French acronym: LPM), it did not confirm that the country will still acquire the 50 A400Ms originally planned. The UK is the next biggest customer, having already reduced its total to 22 from 25.
Buyers must therefore now be found for at least 26 aircraft “released” by the partners. Moreover, the reduced European offtake complicates the agreement reached in 2010, when the partners agreed to pay at least 25 percent more for their aircraft, and Airbus Military agreed to return some of the extra money by means of a levy on future export sales. Malaysia (four aircraft) is currently the only export customer, but South Africa could reverse its cancellation in 2009 of an order for eight. After the development funding crisis of 2010 was resolved, Airbus Military officials said that the program could break even only with more export sales. The current production rate is one aircraft per month, but is planned to reach 2.5 per month in 2015.
An Airbus Military spokesman told AIN, “We are not in any contract discussions at this moment. We are aware of the economic difficulties that our customers are facing and will continue to work with them to find balanced solutions.”