“Build it and they will come”, the old maxim states. It’s a phrase that European airframer Airbus Military also hopes will ring true in the tactical/strategic transport sector, because export buyers are urgently needed for its recently-delivered A400M.
An earlier contractual crisis saw the company’s confirmed order book for the type trimmed from 180 to 170 units for launch nations Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the UK. That came as Berlin and London changed a respective seven and three of their planned aircraft to options (Airbus Military image below).
Budget pressures have increased since that time, with Germany having previously indicated that it might only be able to fly 40 of its future 60-strong fleet. Speaking at a conference in Seville earlier this week, Spain’s senior air force planning officer said that Madrid will only be able afford to introduce 14 of the 27 that it will receive, from early 2016. Ouch.
There’s nothing unique about this situation of course – the four Eurofighter partner nations will likely not be proceeding with a final Tranche 3B production order, and France and Germany have already slashed their purchase plans for the NH90 and Tiger helicopters.
The director of Europe’s OCCAR procurement agency – which runs the A400M contract on behalf of the partner nations – confirms that no-one has asked to cancel tails from their current purchase totals (although Madrid did unsuccessfully explore whether it could swap some for A330 multi-role tanker transports). Why? Clearly, the hope is that export customers will soon start to emerge, and particularly ones who might be interested in taking delivery slots for some of those spare aircraft.
But what are the A400M’s prospects like on that front? Evaluations took place earlier this year in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the wider Middle East and Asia (where it has previously succeeded in selling four to Malaysia) are cited as key target areas for sales.
So, as deliveries start to pick up (France has two so far, Turkey will get its first within days and Germany and the UK will follow next year) will 2014 be the year that a first buyer comes forward? Airbus Military and the launch nations – and especially those with fleet worries – will certainly be hoping so.