IN FOCUS: How C-295 efficiency drive will help A400M programme

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Landing at Seville's San Pablo airport is a similar experience to that encountered when visiting any number of European cities, with EasyJet and Ryanair among the airlines running regular services to the location, along with Spanish low-cost specialist Vueling and the recently-established Iberia Express.

What makes the location unique can be seen on the southern side of its single runway, where several massive new hangars dominate the skyline. The ramp outside is dotted with a variety of military transport aircraft, ranging in size from Airbus Military's diminutive C-212, flown around the globe for almost 40 years, up to the A400M "Grizzly", which is less than 12 months away from entering use.

airbus military a400m, airbus military

 © Airbus Military

First flown in Seville in 2010, A400M development aircraft "Grizzly 2" shone in recent high-altitude tests in Bolivia

The reason for choosing Spain's fourth-largest city to house the final assembly line (FAL) for Europe's new-generation military airlifter stems from the nation's rich heritage in this sector, which was built by the then-CASA company. It also reflects a strong desire by parent company EADS to establish a new airlift centre of excellence in Seville, with support and financial backing also coming from the Andalucian authorities.

Major investment in the San Pablo site has included the construction of assembly lines for both the A400M and Airbus Military's light and medium transports, plus flight-test facilities, a paint shop and a major international training centre.

PRODUCTION FOCUS

The signature in May 2003 of a development and production contract for an original 180 aircraft was the catalyst for creating the facility for completing the A400M. Major structures arrive aboard Airbus A300-600ST Beluga transports, with five development examples having been flown and the first two production aircraft now on the line.

Production should hit its planned maximum rate of 30 per year during 2015, with deliveries to be made to launch nations Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the UK, plus export buyer Malaysia.

While the new aircraft is the largest to have been assembled in Seville, the expertise required to run the line draws in no small part from Airbus Military's success with the C-212, CN-235 and C-295. These are completed in a spacious hangar just behind that built for the larger type, and where the effects of a new transformation programme are beginning to have a major impact.

November 2013 will bring the 30th anniversary of the CN-235's first flight, while its stretched-fuselage and re-engined C-295 stablemate made its debut sortie in 1998. A combined 375 of the twin-turboprops have now been sold, including 100 of the newer design, accounting for more than one-third of Airbus Military's total of 1,060-plus transports.

The company's production rate for the light and medium types averaged 18 per year between 2007 and 2011, a period during which it also expanded the number of special mission variants on offer. These now include maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, plus an airborne early warning and control system version being offered to a prospective launch customer with Israeli partner Elta Systems.

c-295 aew, airbus military

 © Airbus Military

The C-295 is now offered as an airborne early-warning asset

With multiple versions of the CN-235 and C-295 typically to be found in the facility's four work stations and with parts arriving from locations including Chile, Indonesia, Poland, Portugal and Turkey, Airbus Military faced a serious challenge in managing its production flow, says Ricardo Rojas, head of the FAL for light and medium products.

"Every station is organised like a small factory, with logistics and control," Rojas says. "We have to manage the workload, with a tack-time of 10 days to move to the next position." Each station on the pulse line has between 40 to 50 people working on it, depending on the version of aircraft being completed. "It's very difficult to manage that," he says. "You need to have flexibility in your people."

Two shifts of about 300 people each work on the light and medium FAL, with its total staffing level being around 700.

The company has recently established a basic reference group (GBR) model, under which all C-295s will be manufactured with certain equipment and wiring installed. This will enable any aircraft to be adapted for tasks beyond the air transport mission from a wide range of options. As a result, Rojas says the time needed to accommodate such requests can be cut by up to 30% for some versions, with the step also reducing costs. A further 10% saving could follow, along with reduced non-recurring costs for new versions.

SALES TARGET

The first aircraft to have been completed using the new model was delivered to Ghana last month, the 87th C-295 produced. While it will split production equally between the type and the CN-235 this year, largely because of a follow-on French order for the smaller model, under current plans only three CN-235s are likely to be completed in 2013.

With the production model transformed, Airbus Military is stepping up its efforts to boost the current build rate. "At 18 a year we are in a comfort zone, but we aim to increase deliveries up to 25," says Jerónimo Amador, head of market development for light and medium transport aircraft. "The production line is ready for that."

The target is to deliver 20 per year for the next three years, with sales opportunities including an Indian air force deal to replace 56 Hawker Siddeley 748 transports. The company is also looking to broaden the variety of special mission variants of the C-295 that it can offer to its existing and new customers. In all, Amador says Airbus Military aims to sell about 215 aircraft between 2012 and 2021.

Beyond the new efficiency being enjoyed by customers of the medium transport, the GBR transformation has already had an impact on the A400M. An initial 15 personnel from the light and medium FAL were transferred in January to work on the new project, another 25 will follow during November.

Work on the A400M line is now focused on completing assembly of the first of at least 172 production aircraft. To be delivered to the French air force around the end of this year, MSN7 is in the Station 35 position undergoing system tests before having its Europrop International TP400-D6 engines installed. First flight will occur "during the summer", Airbus Military says.

All parts for aircraft MSN8, France's second of 50 A400Ms, are already in the hangar, with assembly work due to commence soon. The next aircraft, to be put together from early next year, will be delivered to the Turkish air force.

cn-235/c-295 maunfacturing, airbus military

 © Airbus Military

An efficiency drive will cut 30% off the time needed to assemble some CN-235/C-295s

Airbus Military's workforce in Seville has been sourced from within the region. "The employees are local people," Rojas says. "We are always measuring their skills and launching training to get the level that we want." A new assessment process for all members of staff this year will define the skills required to perform each type of job.

New assembly-line staff receive instruction in Andalucia, where an aeronautical engineering degree course is now available in Seville, before arriving as specialists in areas such as electrics or mechanics. On-the-job training will enable them to broaden their expertise, which Rojas says is vital for the long-term: "In the future we want people who are capable of doing everything."

The company is studying whether to also introduce the GBR concept with the CN-235, but a decision will be driven by its future orders intake.

One possibility is that further development could be performed in partnership with PT Dirgantara Indonesia, using a model already being introduced with the C-212. All parts for the -400 version are already made in Indonesia, and Airbus Military is preparing to assemble its last-ever example in Spain. Components are due to arrive in San Pablo during June, with the transport to be delivered to Vietnam in December. All subsequent examples will be completed in Indonesia.

"We are now analysing the potential for an aircraft in the C-212 category," Amador says, identifying the need to support commercial operators flying on "pioneer routes" to remote parts of Indonesia. "We believe the C-212 is still a good product for this utility market."

A long-term partner to Airbus Military and CASA before it, Jakarta also signed a February order for nine C-295s, the last two of which should be assembled in the customer nation.

Although it was first flown 14 years ago, Amador says the C-295's sales performance to date, and its growing range of special mission applications, mean Airbus Military is in no hurry to launch work on a "C-2XX" successor, but it continually assesses the market need.

"Our view is that the C-295 with continued development is a solid product for the next 15 to 20 years," he says. "We don't see now a significant need for a new development."

INTERNATIONAL TRAINING CENTRE WELCOMES ALL-COMERS

As production aircraft MSN7 takes shape on the A400M final assembly line, Airbus Military is also working to ready the training system which will prepare the first pilots and loadmasters to operate Europe's new-generation airlifter.

With the first aircraft due to be delivered to the French air force around the end of this year, the company is making preparations to begin training the service's first four pilots, up to six loadmasters and maintainers using the international training centre (ITC) at its San Pablo site near Seville.

Opened in October 2010 and already supporting customers for Airbus Military's light and medium transports, the 12,000m2 (130,000ft2) facility has 22 training rooms and will eventually house six full-flight simulators, including at least one for the A400M.

"We plan to complete training on the first two French air force crews before the end of this year," says Ian Burrett, Airbus Military's head of training and aircrew operations. "We have got a lot to do in the next seven months, but are very much on track to do that."

airbus military itc training center, airbus military

 © Airbus Military

Airbus Military trains about 1,000 people a year at its ITC

The first equipment needed to deliver the course is nearing readiness, with a computer-based training system now going through validation testing.

Procedural and maintenance trainers will follow, with a Thales-built full-flight simulator to be in use around August but only able to support operations from about the end of the year. To enter use as a Level C device, the simulator will later be certificated to the Level D standard, potentially enabling pilots to achieve a zero flight-time conversion to the A400M.

A CAE cockpit-maintenance trainer will also enter use in August, and a Rheinmetall-produced cargo hold trainer will be available from March 2013. The latter will support loadmaster instruction, including for applications such as airdrop.

With the initial work for France to be at its most intensive between October and December, the company will employ other assets, including its "aircraft zero" systems simulator and production-standard development aircraft MSN6.

Early training for all A400M nations will be conducted using the ITC. In-country facilities will follow for the French air force and UK Royal Air Force at their Orléans and Brize Norton bases, with Germany yet to announce the location for its domestic infrastructure. Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain will send personnel to Seville, while Turkey's plans are yet to be confirmed.

The annual throughput at the ITC is about 1,000 people, including pilots, maintainers and mission system operators from nations including Chile, Egypt and Indonesia, who can also learn in Seville while using their own aircraft.

"Once at full speed on the A400M it will probably be around 2,000," Burrett says. "The students also learn from each other, which is a real benefit of a multinational programme."