By: Chris Pocock (www.ainonline.com)
Although Airbus Defence and Space will have delivered 10 A400M airlifters by year-end, only one less than it planned, the introduction of tactical capabilities beyond basic strategic airlift has fallen well behind. That schedule has already been amended twice, once in 2011 as part of the renegotiation of the original contract with the seven partner nations, and again in 2012 after an engine development problem. The delays obliged the company to make provision in its latest financial statement for possible contract losses.
The sequence of progressive enhancements is still under negotiation with the customers, according to the Airbus third-quarter financial statement. For contractual purposes, Airbus D&S previously defined them as a series of Service Operating Clearances (SOCs) that were common to each partner nation, but the spokesman told AIN that the nations “had moved capabilities up and down the schedule” in recent years. Over the past few months, Airbus D&S has reported successful flight-tests of paratrooping, and the airdrop of standard one-tonne container delivery systems (CDS) was demonstrated when 24 of them were deployed in a single pass. The company has also proved the aircraft’s tanker capability, with Spanish F/A-18s refueling from the wing-mounted pods.
Shortly after the first UK aircraft was handed over, Airbus D&S signed a common in-service support (ISS) contract for the A400M with France and the UK, which are due to receive 50 and 22 aircraft, respectively. It covers line maintenance, the pooling of spare parts and maintenance engineering services. In an unusual move, Flybe Aviation Services will act as a subcontractor to Airbus in maintaining and supporting the Royal Air Force A400Mfleet at Brize Norton airbase. This company is the engineering subsidiary of British regional airline Flybe, and it has significant third-party MRO business handling regional aircraft. Airbus D&S executive vice president of military aircraft Domingo Urena Raso said the ISS contract “will enable us to deploy best commercial practice in support of an aircraft that we expect will set new standards of reliability and maintainability.”
British defense procurement minister Philip Dunne said the joint contract is “an important milestone of increasing mutual collaboration” between the UK and France. French procurement chief Laurent Collet-Billon suggested that the other A400M partners (Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey) might conclude similar joint support agreements. However, Germany has just signed a separate ISS contract with Airbus D&S. It will receive its first A400M in the next few days.
Rolls-Royce said it has made a $28 million investment in its Bristol, UK facility to support the A400M’s TP400 engines. An existing testbed will be converted to permit ground running. Although initially dedicated to the RAF’s engines, the facility will subsequently be available for other A400M customers. (AIN Online)