Paris Air Show

Partners brace to bite bullet on A400M costs

 - June 17, 2009, 11:32 AM

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.”

Morin acted as the de facto spokesman for all the partner nations and he insisted that his German, Spanish and British counterparts have no intention of giving up on the program. However, “there will be extra costs, no matter what happens,” he added. These would include the buying or leasing of alternative aircraft to meet the airlift shortfall in some countries, including France, he said. Germany was seeking “real transparency” on this point, while the UK was setting some conditions.

While Airbus would not talk specifics, the Europrop engine consortium called a briefing to describe progress with the much-maligned TP400 engine program (see page 22). But while Europrop can be held responsible for delaying the first flight of the A400M, there’s plenty more blame to spread around for the general state of the program. There’s Airbus itself, for its woeful underestimate of the development challenge, and lack of military experience; Thales and Sagem, for failing to deliver the FMS and the GPS/INS navigation systems to specification; and EADS Defense and Security, where development of a low-level tactical flying system has been abandoned.

The last time Airbus Military provided a program update was six weeks ago at a media briefing in Seville. The new chairman and managing director, Domingo Urena, said that all systems for the first airplane (MSN 1) had been installed, except for the Fadec software. While awaiting this, some tasks had been brought forward, such as ground vibration testing, fuel system testing, and installation and verification of the flight-test instrumentation. The first ground engine runs are now scheduled for the fall.

MSN 2 is structurally complete, with “power on,” and systems testing began in late April. Final assembly of MSN 3 started last month. At Getafe near Madrid, the static test article has cleared the A400M structure for early test flights, and the limit load campaign is nearly completed. In the separate integrated landing gear test rig, the static test has been completed and the fatigue test is in progress.