Deliveries of the A400M transport are on track to start in the first quarter of 2013, with Airbus Military expecting the type to reach its final operating standard around five years later.
Major assemblies for the programme's initial production aircraft, MSN7, will arrive at the company's final assembly site at San Pablo near Seville late this year. It will make its flight debut by the third quarter of next year, before being delivered to the French air force in an initial operating capability standard.
MSN7 is the first of 170 A400Ms to have entered production for partner nations Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the UK. Ten others originally set for acceptance by Germany and the UK will be offered for sale once an export strategy has been finalised for the delayed type. "I would prefer to have an aircraft certified and with proven capabilities before going to export," said Airbus Military managing director Domingo Ureña.
© Airbus Military
"We have achieved all of the [programme] milestones for almost two years and are very confident that we will achieve civil certification before the end of this year," said A400M programme head Cédric Gautier. The company plans to demonstrate the aircraft's capabilities to its customers next year, although some of these will only become available operationally through five subsequent capability standards scheduled to run between 2013 and 2018.
Gautier said all aircraft handed over before the A400M's final SOC3 standard will be retrofitted to the configuration as part of a renewed contract earlier this year. "This philosophy allows us to de-risk the programme and deliver at the right time to meet the customers' requirements."
While the programme's current main emphasis is on supporting civil certification activities involving the European Aviation Safety Agency, Airbus Military's chief test pilot military Ed Strongman says the test team is already supporting development work in areas such as paratroop delivery and the use of night vision goggles.
Roughly 500 sorties and 1,600 flight hours have been recorded so far using four "Grizzly" test aircraft. A fifth, production-standard MSN6, will be flown for the first time in October. The expanded fleet must log a combined total of 1,000 additional hours before the declaration of initial operating capability.
Airbus Military plans to hand over its first four production A400Ms to France and Turkey in 2013, with deliveries to Germany, the UK and international buyer Malaysia to start the following year. The company is in the process of discussing in-service support and training arrangements with its customers.