Airbus Military is increasingly confident about the technical progress of the A400M airlifter, but has refused to comment on the difficult, ongoing negotiations with the European launch nations over cost and timescale.
Anxious to demonstrate progress toward a first flight, Airbus Military will hold another technical press briefing on the troubled A400M airlifter in Spain next week. Ahead of the meeting, the company told AIN that Europrop had delivered Fadec software for the TP400 engines, so that system integration tests could proceed on the so-called “iron bird” test rig in Toulouse, France.
Airbus has presented “a realistic development and production schedule” to the A400M partner nations, CEO Tom Enders said here in Paris on Tuesday. Ahead of next week’s meeting in Seville with the defense ministers, Airbus won’t answer detailed questions about the plan in public. But they seem to have convinced one customer already: French defense minister Herve Morin said here yesterday that he could see “light at the end of the tunnel.”
Engine consortium Europrop International (EPI) is now just 300 test hours away from certification of its 11,000-shp TP400 turboprop for the Airbus A400M military transport. According to technical director Karsten Muehlenfeld, the final software of the full authority digital engine control (Fadec) is to be delivered to the Toulouse iron bird late this month, allowing flight trials to at last begin.
Six years ago, the team from Airbus Military promoting the A400M came to the Paris Air Show full of confidence and good intentions. Germany had just confirmed its order for 60, finally launching the program after years of negotiations. Italy and Portugal dropped out, leaving a total requirement of 180 aircraft for six European countries (seven, if you count Luxembourg taking one aircraft).
EADS Airbus Military hopes that by the Paris Air Show next month launch customers Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the UK will complete a review of their commitment to the A400M military transport.
EADS Airbus has proposed major revisions to its contract with seven European nations for the A400M airlifter, including a delay in the first deliveries until 2012. The company still has no idea when the first flight might take place, although the C-130 testbed for the A400M’s huge TP400 turboprop engines did finally get off the ground last month.
The Europrop TP400 engine that has been fitted to a C-130 testbed at Cambridge, UK, by Marshall Aerospace ran at full power for the first time last week. But unanticipated problems integrating the 11,000-shp powerplant on the C-130 have further delayed the A400M program.
Further delay to the Airbus A400M military transport now seems inevitable. “There’s an obvious risk of slippage,” Carlos Suarez, head of EADS Military Transport Aircraft (MTA), said here at Farnborough. The first A400M ceremonially rolled out from the brand-new final assembly line building at Seville, Spain, on June 26.
Powering the A400M was always going to be a challenge, requiring the development of the Western world’s biggest turboprop, the 11,000-shp TP400-D6, and integrating a host of highly complex systems and associated software. “The complexity of the integration task on the TP400 has been bigger than it was for the Airbus A380,” said Nick Durham, president of Europrop International (EPI).